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Litigator Roberta A. Kaplan '91 Challenges Columbia Law School Graduates to Be True to Themselves

In His Final Graduation Address as Dean, David M. Schizer Tells Graduates to Imprint Their Values on the World

Media Contact: Public Affairs, 212-854-2650 or publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu

New York, May 22, 2014—Graduates of Columbia Law School’s Class of 2014 should be true to themselves and their values as they embark on careers in “the noblest of professions,” said Roberta A. Kaplan ’91, a well-known litigator who last year successfully challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court, in an inspiring keynote address at the Law School’s May 22 graduation ceremony.

 Graduation keynote speaker Roberta A. Kaplan '91 talks to graduates about lessons she learned while representing Edith Windsor in her successful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Kaplan, who addressed a celebratory crowd on Columbia University’s South Lawn, represented octogenarian Edith Windsor in her battle to overturn the law banning recognition of same-sex marriages. She and other speakers at the ceremony addressed Columbia Law School’s J.D., LL.M., and J.S.D. candidates and thousands of their family members and friends who cheered and called out congratulations to their loved ones as they processed to their seats to “Pomp and Circumstance” before the program began.
 
       
 Class of 2014 graduates process to the traditional playing of "Pomp and Circumstance"
and the wild cheers of their family and friends.

“What the Windsor decision means is that courts matter, and what Windsor the Windsor decision means is that the United States Constitution matters, and what the Windsor decision means is that what we do as lawyers every single day really, really matters a lot,” said Kaplan, a 1991 alumna of Columbia Law School and a partner in the litigation department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. “You are about to enter the noblest of professions. Take on clients and cases because you know in your mind and in your heart that it’s the right thing to do. As far as I can tell, that is what this crazy condition of being both a human being and a lawyer is all about.”
 
Dean Schizer’s Final Graduation Address
 
In his final Columbia Law School graduation address as dean, David M. Schizer, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law and the Harvey R. Miller Professor of Law and Economics, told the Class of 2014 that a “wise and just legal system keeps us safe, ensures that diverse communities live and work together in harmony, and lays the foundation for innovation, creativity, and hard work that lead to a better life for everyone.”
 
David M. Schizer delivers his final graduation address as dean of Columbia Law School. He will return to full-time teaching after his 10-year term as dean ends June 30.
Dean Schizer, who will return to full-time teaching when his 10-year term as dean ends June 30, told graduates it is now their turn to confront challenges in the world—including the slow pace of global economic growth, conflicts in countries like Syria and the Ukraine, and terrorism—the way other Columbia Law School graduates have before them.
 
“We need wise leaders and the right legal system to preserve our security while also remaining true to our ideals,” Dean Schizer said. “In the coming years, there will be changes in the world—both good and bad—that will help to shape your life. My point today is that the reverse is also true. Your life will help to shape changes in the world. A degree from this magnificent law school empowers you not just to make a living, but to make life worth living for everyone. You should use your professional energies to imprint your values on the world.”
 
Paraphrasing U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Class of 1884, Dean Schizer told graduates: “‘a man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he’s always in good company.’ So never make compromises about your integrity. No exceptions.”
 
Dean Schizer told graduates they can make their mark on the world in a variety of ways. In fact, he mentioned two such ways during the upbeat University-wide commencement ceremony on May 21. In the degree conferral process at that ceremony, Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll said his graduates may one day serve time in prison for pursuing the truth in the press. Dean Schizer didn’t miss a beat when he took the podium a few minutes later.
 
“Like the classes that have come before them, [Columbia Law School’s graduates] are trained to become leaders in every sector all over the world, and, if I understood Dean Coll’s remarks correctly, some of them may be prosecuting their colleagues in the Journalism School,” Dean Schizer said as the crowd roared in appreciation. “But,” he added, “others will be defending them.”
 
Professor Metzger: A “Consummate Mentor”
 
During their own graduation ceremony, Columbia Law School graduates also heard from Professor and Vice Dean Gillian E. Metzger ’96, who addressed the crowd as this year’s recipient of the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Metzger, the Stanley H. Fuld Professor of Law, is a leading authority on constitutional law, administrative law, and federalism, and was selected by students to receive the award.
 
Miguel A. Gradilla '14 presents the Willis L.M. Reese Prize in Teaching to Professor and Vice Dean Gillian E. Metzger '96.
Miguel A. Gradilla ’14, a first-generation American whose working-class parents emigrated from Mexico, introduced Metzger, describing her as “the consummate mentor” and someone who had helped push him to fulfill his potential.
 
“Whether by working to increase faculty-student interaction or by mentoring students seeking to chart a path to impactful careers, she invests in others’ success,” said Gradilla, who will start his career as an associate in the San Francisco offices of Cooley after graduation.
 
Metzger has worked in her role as vice dean to encourage a robust intellectual environment that fosters faculty-student interactions. She also serves as the faculty director of the Center for Constitutional Governance, which brings together a dynamic roster of constitutional scholars engaged in the study of governmental structure and relationships.
 
After suggesting that she might cold call graduates from the podium in one last Socratic test to demonstrate their knowledge before family and friends, Metzger went on to tell members of the Class of 2014 that they now have a responsibility to improve the law they’ve studied for so long.
 
“As lawyers, and as Columbia Law School graduates, you have great power,” she said. “You have the ability to wield the instruments of legal persuasion in service of those who lack such a voice. You have the intelligence, the skill, and the access to improve legal institutions and to rectify the failures of the law. You are all supremely up to the challenge.”
 
Students Reflect on Their Past and Their Futures
 
In the first of the student speeches that drew enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience, Student Senate President Gexu “George” Zhang ’14 offered a similar message, telling his classmates to “resist informed complacency” about the status quo and to remain optimistic despite the challenges in the world.
 
“Looking at all of you, I see people who will challenge our current energy policies, who will reform the tax code, who will fight for and protect human rights around the world, who will run more accountable governments and corporations,” he said.
 
The Law School has helped prepare students for such futures. In the time members of the Class of 2014 spent on campus, they delved into various aspects of business law, constitutional scholarship, international arbitration, and social policy through new centers launched by the Law School. The graduates also took advantage of expanded clinics, internships, and externships, bridging the gap between theory and practice with the help of some of the nation’s leading legal scholars.
 
Although they have yet to take the bar, members of the Class of 2014 already have accomplished a great deal. They have: argued a moot court case before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan; organized a pro bono spring break trip to document the conditions of schools in Transkei, South Africa; externed at the U.S. Senate Budget Committee and various offices of the federal government in Washington, D.C.; won asylum for an immigrant facing deportation; and filed briefs with appellate courts across the country, among other equally notable achievements.
 
They also won the annual Deans’ Cup basketball game against NYU School of Law, which raises funds for public interest work—the first Columbia Law School Deans’ Cup win since 2008. After Zhang’s speech, he and Graduation Committee Co-Chairs Rayna Delaviev Reid ’14 and Kiira Jeet Johal ’14 surprised Dean Schizer with a replica Deans’ Cup trophy in appreciation of his leadership while their classmates cheered in approval.
Graduation Committee Co-Chairs Kiira Jeet '14 and Rayna Delaviev Reid ’14 present
a replica Deans' Cup to Dean David M. Schizer.
Other students spoke about the long-lasting bonds they formed with classmates and professors, the extensive network of Columbia Law School alumni they now join, and the responsibility each graduate faces to use his or her education to make a positive difference in the world.
 
J.D. speaker Arjun K. Jaikumar ’14 said the Class of 2014 is “a collection not only of great future lawyers, but also of good people.” Offering advice he said his late father shared over the years, he told his fellow graduates to relax and enjoy their lives—even as they enter a demanding profession, to persevere in the face of adversity, and to remember the assistance they’ve been given on the road to success.
 
“I cannot overstate the brilliance, kindness, and work ethic I see in this class,” Jaikumar said. “But remember that, wherever we end up, we are there because at some point, someone carried us.”
 
Patrick Simon Sy Perillo ’14 LL.M. told his classmates to “aspire to become bearers of influence and change.”
 
“The legal scholarship from one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world puts us in a position not only of privilege but, more importantly, of responsibility,” Perillo said. “We have to take an active role in imparting our knowledge to others.”
 
 
 Student speakers, including Student Senate President Gexu "George" Zhang '14, Arjun K. Jaikumar ’14, and Patrick Simon Sy Perillo ’14 LL.M., reflected on their shared past and bright futures.
 Class Gift
 
The ceremony also included a presentation of the Class Gift to Dean Schizer by Emily C. Cole ’14, Frances Hayley Gourdie ’14 LL.M., Jorge Ivan Valencia ’14, and Tabisa R. Walwema ’14.
 
Columbia Law School Clinical Professor of Law Brett Dignam presented academic prizes and awards to graduates who demonstrated outstanding academic achievement in a variety of areas, including writing skills; excellence in the fields of international law, environmental law, labor law, and intellectual property law; gender and LGBT rights; clinical fieldwork; and trial advocacy. View a complete list of prizewinners.
 
The graduates were joined by seven members of the Class of 1964 who celebrate their 50th reunion this year.
 
 Seven members of the Class of 1964 walked in the day's procession.
Columbia Law School's newest alumni celebrate their graduation.

 

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