Dean Gillian Lester Urges Class of 2015 to Call Upon Their Courage and Moral Clarity

Society Needs Graduates to Pursue Justice in a Nuanced World, She Says

New York, May 21, 2015—Graduates of Columbia Law School’s Class of 2015 possess the clarity to grasp the moral landscape before them and the courage to do what is right even when it’s difficult, said Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, who today presided over her first graduation ceremony since taking the helm of the Law School in January.

 

 Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, presides over her first graduation
ceremony since taking the helm of Columbia Law School in January.

Lester, who was appointed the Law School’s 15th dean last year, told graduates to have faith in their own ability to make the right call. 

“Clarity is the ability to grasp the moral landscape,” she said. “And courage is having the guts to believe in yourself, to trust your instincts, and to act. Together, these two qualities will make you unstoppable.”
 
Dean Lester addressed the J.D. and LL.M. classes, as well as a celebratory crowd of family members and friends who cheered and called out congratulations to their graduating loved ones as they marched onto Columbia University’s South Lawn. She also paid special tribute to nine members of the Class of 1965 who participated in the processional: Richard W. Breithaupt, Aaron Etra, Marion C. Katzive, Burton Lehman, Daniel Markewich, Merril A. Mironer, Yale M. Murov, Daniel H. Murphy, and Eugene Sullivan. Gladys Rothenberg also marched, standing in for her husband Peter Rosenberg ’65, who passed away last month.
 
 

Nine members of the Class of 1965 walk in the day’s procession.

 
“We thank you for your conscientious stewardship of the law and for your contributions to the betterment of society,” Dean Lester told the Class of 1965, who celebrate their 50th reunion this year. “It is your legacy that will guide these, our newest alumni.”
 
Lester told today’s graduates they are joining “a global community of Columbia alumni, a family that will be a source of strength and counsel for the rest of your life.”
 
     
    
 Dean Lester leads the processional onto the South Lawn while, during the ceremony,
students and parents take the opportunity to capture the moment.
 
 
Law School’s Legacy in the Rule of Law
 
Keynote speaker Charles Fried ’60, former solicitor general of
the United States, told the Class of 2015 they are now part of
a long line of Columbia Law School graduates who have
used the rule of law to make the world a better place.
The spirited—and occasionally emotional—ceremony featured a keynote address by former U.S. Solicitor General Charles Fried ’60, a constitutional law and contracts scholar, who taught many of the graduates in their first year as a visiting professor.

Fried thanked his former students for including him in their graduation and told them they are part of a long line of distinguished Columbia Law School alumni and faculty who have used the rule of law—and reason—to improve the world, including: Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1891), Harlan Fiske Stone (1898), Stanley H. Fuld ’26, Walter Gellhorn ’31, Herbert Wechsler ’31, Charles D. Breitel ’32, and Constance Baker Motley ’46, among many others.
 
“What characterized all these jurists, judges, lawyers, and scholars, who learned from each other, studied with each other, as have you and I, is the power of reason,” said Fried, who was born in Prague and became a U.S. citizen in 1948 before earning his LL.B. in 1960 from Columbia Law School. “The tribute that power pays to reason is the whole substance of the rule of law. Without power, reason would only be poetry. But without reason, power is tyranny and brutality.”
 
Fried served under President Ronald Reagan as the 38th solicitor general of the United States from 1984 to 1989. He is the Beneficial Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
 
Professor Bulman-Pozen: “The Best of Legal Education”
 
Professor Jessica Bulman-Pozen, this year’s recipient of the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching, also offered words of encouragement and advice. Only eight years out of law school, Bulman-Pozen is a leading expert in administrative law, federalism, and constitutional law. She is also a former attorney-adviser in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.
 
Madiba K. Dennie ’15, who studied under Bulman-Pozen, described her as “the best of legal education” who “sets the benchmark for responsiveness to students’ needs.”
 
“Professor Bulman-Pozen’s teaching and scholarship help prepare us to grapple with the injustices that surround us and actively confront structural oppression, and we are all better for it,” Dennie said, noting that Bulman-Pozen makes a special effort to reach out to women and students of color and to call students “counselors” instead of the gender-limited “Mister” or “Miss.”
 
Madiba K. Dennie ’15 presents the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence
in Teaching to Professor Jessica Bulman-Pozen.
 
Bulman-Pozen, who received a standing ovation from the faculty on stage and from her former students, urged graduates to remember that the law is a human system that can both fail and inspire us.
 
“So many of you sought out a J.D. or LL.M. because you saw a world in need of transformation and knew that law was the tool,” she said. “Although law alone will never remake society, it is our most powerful language for pursuing liberty and equality, fairness and justice. And you are its future. Whether you litigate or legislate, whether you devote your career to the public interest or devote billable hours to pro bono work, whether you hold government accountable from the outside or make it better from the inside, whether you hold corporations accountable from the outside or make them better from the inside—we are counting on you.”
 
Indeed, as Dean Lester noted, this year’s graduates are already an accomplished group. For example, they have collectively: 
  • won asylum for immigrant families facing persecution;
  • fought to limit greenhouse gas emissions;
  • addressed the United Nations on targeted killing;
  • challenged the regulation of domestic and global financial markets; 
  • ran the New York City marathon;
  • served as senior legal officers in the U.S. military;
  • freed a man who was wrongfully incarcerated for more than 18 years; and
  • worked in New York, D.C., Los Angeles, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Rome, Myanmar, Dubai, Lima, Harare, Sao Paulo, and Sydney, among other accomplishments.
Students have made their mark outside the law in myriad ways as well, including just yesterday when Erica K. Senat ’15, a talented singer, performed the national anthem at the Columbia University commencement.
 
Students Reflect on their Shared Experiences and Future Journeys
 
All three Class of 2015 student speakers drew enthusiastic cheers and applause as they described the close-knit community they have built on campus among classmates who hail from 35 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and more than 50 countries. They also expressed the gratitude they and their fellow graduates feel for the support they have received over the years.
 
“I truly believe that Columbia is a great place because of how everyone—faculty, staff, administrators, and students—came together to create the platform we all built upon,” said Student Senate President Joshua M. Lingerfelt ’15. “You have poured your heart and soul into this place and transformed it from a collection of people into a community.”
 
 
 (left to right) Student Senate President Joshua M. Lingerfelt ’15, J.D. Class Speaker
Mikael Gatsby Miller ’15, and LL.M. Class Speaker Rony Oommen John ’15 LL.M.
reflect on the experiences the graduates have shared on campus and off.
 
J.D. Class Speaker Mikael Gatsby Miller ’15 agreed, calling his classmates his “chosen family” in a moving speech that also featured many inside jokes.
 
“While we all came to Columbia Law School for different reasons, we do have one thing in common: All of us would be happier right now if I were Amal Clooney,” Miller said in reference to the celebrity human rights attorney who taught at the Law School this semester.
 
Miller, who experienced homelessness through high school, said he was amazed at the “genuine love and kindness” of those who stood behind the graduates during their time at the Law School.
 
“We are so often commended for intelligence and hard work, I think we sometimes forget just how lucky we are,” Miller said. “As we celebrate today, take five seconds to thank whatever stars have aligned for you, and promise to never take for granted the amazing opportunities that we have all been given.”
 
Speaking for the LL.M. graduates, Rony Oommen John ’15 LL.M. described the past 10 months as “an experience par excellence,” noting the diversity of his classmates.
 
“The LL.M. program characterizes our professional pilgrimage—to challenge ourselves to learn new things, to deliberate on new ideas, and to test our versatility,” he said. “We earned this privilege through our efforts and our conviction; we must choose wisely about how we make a difference back home.”
 
Record-Breaking Class Gift
 
John T. Goodwin ’15, Morgan L. Lee ’15, Tobias Willibald Hugo Winkler ’15 LL.M., and Joanna Yi Jia Zhou ’15 LL.M. presented Dean Lester with the Class Gift. Goodwin said 81 percent of the graduating class contributed to the campaign, making it one of the most successful in the Law School’s history. In fact, more individual donations were collected than in any Class Gift campaign on record.
 
Columbia Law School Professor and Vice Dean Jamal Greene 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. 
 
As the energetic ceremony drew to a close, faculty and graduates recessed to a live jazz band’s up-tempo rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance” before heading off to celebrate.
 
The Class of 2015 looks toward a bright future.
 
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