Southwestern Graduates Inspired by a Myriad of Speakers
During Southwestern’s 99th Commencement Ceremony held on May 18 at the Shrine Auditorium, the graduates and their family members and guests were treated to a series of inspiring speeches by Dean Susan Westerberg Prager, graduating evening student Jahmy Graham and Hon. Goodwin Liu, Associate Justice for the Supreme Court of California. During the ceremony, degrees were conferred on 310 J.D. and 25 LL.M. graduates, and honorary Doctor of Laws degrees were presented to three individuals: , and , a long-time member of Southwestern’s Board of Trustees.
This year’s festivities included the return of past Interim Dean Austen Parrish to serve as Grand Marshal for the ceremony; he was elected for the honor by graduating students prior to his departure to serve as Dean of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. The Graduate Class Gift Committee also presented Dean Prager with this year’s gift, which totaled over $15,000, thanks in part to a matching gift by Judy Jacobs ’94, and the class gift was once again designated toward public interest grants.
Marking her first Commencement with the law school, Dean Prager spoke about Southwestern’s background and the trailblazers who have come before the current graduating class. She made special note of Tom Bradley ’53, the longest-serving and only African American mayor of Los Angeles, who worked his way through the law school’s evening program while serving as a police officer, and Justice Arleigh M. Woods ’53, the first female African American Appellate Justice in the nation who also serves as a member of Southwestern’s Board of Trustees. Justice Woods, who sat on stage with the other trustees in attendance, was acknowledged and applauded. Dean Prager went on to note that, “Southwestern students get a lot done. I am in awe of you. You juggle many demands and do that effectively.” She also shared that “I have been impressed by how many students support one another,” as she proudly pointed out the evident culture of support at the law school.
Jahmy Graham was selected as the student speaker for the class of 2014. With his passionate, booming voice, he delivered a rousing speech that his fellow graduates applauded throughout. “We are here today, being conferred our JDs, precisely because we studied while others were resting, worked while others were relaxing, prepared while others were procrastinating, and we dreamed while others were wishing,” Graham said. He also compared Southwestern students to a herd of bison – the law school’s mascot – due to their thick skin, strength and close-knit community. “Bison stick together by moving in herds – that’s their version of community. As Southwestern students, we are committed to community. Through our clinics and public service programs, we demonstrate that we care about the neighborhoods in which we live, and the people we serve, whether they be Fortune 500 companies or the most vulnerable among us.” As he finished his speech, he shouted, “We are Bison!” and the faculty on stage gave him a standing ovation.
After commending Mr. Graham and Nicolas Yowarski, the graduating student who sang the National Anthem, Justice Liu gave a commencement speech that focused on the other side of life’s journeys – the failures and disappointments – and recounted stories of his own past. From a particularly difficult public speaking memory of his childhood to preparing for the bar after graduating from Yale Law School, his takeaway for the graduates was that mistakes are a part of life and that failure has possible upsides. “Sometimes it means you’re challenging yourself. Failure can be a gateway to your next success.” He left the graduates with this thought in regards to the state of the world and the degree they have earned: “No progress will be made unless people like you step up and take some risks.”