Highlights of the Day
Columbia Law School Class of 2009 Told to “Argue the Case for a Better Tomorrow”
Despite Economic Uncertainty, Dean David Schizer Says Students Are in Great Position to Succeed
After three years at Columbia Law School, Andrew LeGrand ’09 has taken his last final exam. But he graduated with some important questions left unanswered.
“What honor can we bring our degree?” asked LeGrand, the J.D. Speaker today at the 148th Graduation Ceremony for the Law School. “What honor can we bring the profession? How can we use our knowledge and skills to improve the lives of others?”
LeGrand, who was voted speaker by his classmates, was among more than 680 J.D., L.L.M., and J.S.D. students who received degrees during ceremonies held on the South Lawn of Columbia University.
LeGrand said he turned to the legacies of Law School alumni like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59 and civil-rights crusader Jack Greenberg ’48 to help answer his own questions.
“Like so many others, these lawyers used their legal talents to stand up for social progress, even in the face of massive resistance,” LeGrand said. “We inherit that same responsibility. We must argue the case for a better tomorrow.”
Those arguments would come at a time of economic uncertainty for many lawyers. However, David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, said the Class of 2009 is well-positioned to succeed. “Even in these difficult times—indeed, especially in these difficult times—the world needs Columbia-trained lawyers,” he said.
As an example of Law School graduates rising above adversity, Dean Schizer cited Justice Ginsburg’s Class of 1959, which celebrates its 50th reunion this year. Dean Schizer said their experiences—especially the women in that class—offer vital lessons for today’s graduates.
“Each of them will tell you that, in seeking advice about their careers from well-meaning male lawyers, they were consistently told to learn steno,” said Dean Schizer, whose mother Hazel is a ’59 alumna. “But although finding their first job was a challenge, these women have been extraordinarily successful.”
Those women also provide other indelible links to today’s graduation. Marie Garibaldi ’59 was the first woman to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Professor Suzanne Goldberg –whose father Richard is also a member of the class of 1959—clerked for Garibaldi.
Goldberg, co-director of the Law School’s Gender and Sexuality Law Program, today received the 2009 Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Goldberg spent a decade litigating gay and lesbian rights cases before becoming a professor and says she’s a prime example of how the path one can take as a lawyer can quickly diverge.
“That’s the funny thing about a career—you can plan, and you should plan—but for all that planning, you just never know exactly where you’ll wind up,” said Goldberg, who reminded students they will “never run out of things to do, people to help and places to contribute your power and vision.”
“Graduation means it is your turn to fill in the blank,” she said.
Those sentiments were echoed by the keynote speaker, former California Governor Gray Davis ’67, who noted “law school is predictable; life is not.”
Davis recalled being last in the polls when he first ran for governor in 1998 until higher-profile and wealthier candidates either withdrew or made crucial mistakes. “In life, sometimes long shots win,” Davis said. “In your practice, pay attention to long shots. That’s how society improves and law evolves.”
The Law School also gave prizes and awards to about 20 students for outstanding achievement. A complete list is available here.
Columbia Law School Graduates Keep It All in the Family
Proud Parents, Children, and Relatives Celebrate the Day
In many ways, law school is a family affair.
There were numerous examples on display at the Columbia Law School Class of 2009 Graduation Ceremony, where more than 680 students received J.D., LL.M., and J.S.D. degrees.
To some extent, this was a day about the children, some of whom were born while the graduates were studying full time. As if Law School wasn’t hard enough. But with a little practice, juggling babies and classes can be done.
“I think it helped that everyone was on the same page,” said Peter Kim ’09, as he held his 6-month-old son Cole. Despite the sleepless nights that come with a new baby, Kim said the timing was right.
“Having a baby now, the hours are more flexible than when you are at a law firm,” said Kim, who starts at Davis Polk in the fall.
Some graduates, including J.D. class speaker Andrew LeGrand ’09, brought their children with them to the stage as their names were called. Melissa Philbrick ’84 remembers not being able to do that with her then-18-month-old daughter Jennifer 25 years ago.
One consolation: getting to see Jennifer receive her own J.D. at the Law School. “It’s great to be able to share this experience with her,” said Jennifer, who had pinned to her gown a family picture from her mother’s graduation day.
To be sure, success in law school can often hinge on having a strong support system on the home front. Not to mention a sense of humor.
Taking time out from posing for pictures, Anna Siemon ’09 said graduating was “very exciting but it’s hard to process,” especially with bar exams looming in the summer.
But her hard work paid off with a job at Debevoise & Plimpton. Her mother Alexandra had a feeling her daughter was destined for a moment like this. “It made total sense to me,” she joked, “she was always argumentative.”
But at least they got to see each other. For some LL.M. candidates, graduation was also a day for reunions. The 200-plus L.L.M. contingent hails from 51 countries, including India, where the brother and parents of Abhinav Sanghi flew in from Delhi. They had not been together since Abhinav left for New York.
“I remember seeing him off at the airport in Delhi,” said his father, Ajay Sanghi, “and now, here we are. It feels wonderful to see him graduate.”
Celine Assaf ’09 LL.M. brought family members from Paris, Montreal, and her home city of Beirut to the Columbia campus. Assaf, the Class Gift co-chair for the LL.M.s, will stay in New York to take the bar and practice intellectual property law.
“The first day of class, everyone is a stranger, and we’ve come from so many different cultures,” she said. “By the end, everyone looks like a brother or sister.”
In other words, just like a family.
Graduation Gives Class of 1959 Members Changes to Finally Put on Cap and Gown
A warm sun and cloudless sky greeted the Columbia Law School Class of 2009 for their graduation. Noel Berman ’59 remembered those were two things noticeably absent 50 years ago.
It rained on his graduation day. That meant most of his class did not participate in the ceremony. Instead, one or two representatives stood for the rest of the class.
In a sense,” Berman said, “I’m not reliving but living the occasion.”
Berman was one of nine members of the Class of 1959 to take part in this year’s ceremony. “I want to show my ‘brethren and sistren’ that I’m still able to walk and stand up straight,” he said with a laugh. Plus, he lives within walking distance and “someone who lives on Riverside Drive has no excuse [not to come].”
Ralph Goldberg ’59 was one of the students who represented his class in the rain. “It was not the most cheerful atmosphere,” he recalled.
That day may have been anticlimactic, but law school had a profound impact on his life—not least because it introduced him to his wife, Audrey Lipsett Goldberg ’59, one of only 12 women in the 280-student class.
Those women, added Duncan Cameron ’59, have all gone on to enjoy great success. They include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59, the first woman to hold a tenured position on the Law School faculty; Marie Garibaldi ’59, the first woman to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court; and Hazel Schizer ’59, whose son is Dean David M. Schizer.
During a reception at Butler Hall just before the graduation, the members of that storied class posed for photos and traded hugs and memories. Then they put on the cap and gown most never had the chance to wear.