Graduation 2021: Highlights of a Special Day

Columbia Law celebrated the graduation of the 2021 cohort of J.D., LL.M., and Executive LL.M. students with a virtual ceremony, featuring keynote speaker U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ’88, on April 29, 2021.

Capping a Columbia Law School experience like none before it, the Class of 2021 was cheered on by family, friends, and members of the Law School community as they watched the online ceremony from locations all over the world. The graduates were sent on their way with advice from faculty, reminiscences from classmates, and a reminder from U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken ’88 that the United States’ “greatest source of strength [is] our commitment to the rule of law.”

Welcoming Graduates and Friends

Graduation Co-Chair Lune Klappe ’21 LL.M. summed up the unique experience of the Class of 2021 as it overcame the challenges of the pandemic that forced the Law School to switch to remote learning. “Sitting in class with one or even two masks on, coming up for a gasp of air on Revson Plaza only to find out that is now a one-way route, slowly forgetting what the bottom half of your classmate’s face looks like, raising your blue hand in Zoom-land, reminding professors to hit the record button, or even taking classes asynchronously from opposite time zones—our class has conquered all of these challenges,” Klappe said. “Today is the day that we celebrate not only the drive and tenacity that brought us to Columbia and allowed us to thrive here. Today, we also honor the strength each of us had to continue pursuing our dreams despite setbacks and suboptimal circumstances. We deserve to take this as the joyful occasion that it is.”

Graduation Co-Chair Chizoba D. Ukairo ’21 introduced Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. Only the second woman to lead the 163-year-old Law School, Dean Lester is “a strong and compassionate leader [who] has been a graceful example of how to lead effectively even in the midst of uncertainty,” Ukairo said.

Law school for the Class of 2021 has included a global pandemic, widespread racial reckoning, and the ravages of climate change. “You have arguably seen more chaos, convulsion, and unpredictability over the last 14 months than past graduates have seen in their first decade of practice,” Dean Lester said. As a result, “you have been trained as lawyers in the twin registers of change and adaptation.”

There is more turmoil to come, she cautioned the graduates. “Our society is poised on the cusp of a period of explosive reimagination and contestation” in areas from voting rights to information governance. The result is “an urgent call to retool our core civic, political, legal, and regulatory architecture.”

The Class of 2021 is equal to the challenge “because you have had the guts and the stamina to earn your degrees in the most extraordinary of times,” she said. “While a memory of upheaval will surely mark this period in the Law School’s history, the most important thing that anyone will remember in this story is you: your achievements, your poise, your perseverance.” 

Student Speakers: Make Decisions “Resonant With Justice.”  

The graduation co-chairs introduced student speakers Oluwatumise “Tumise” Asebiomo ’21, editor in chief of the Columbia Law Review, and Air Force Major David Taylor Dayton Jr. ’21 LL.M., who were chosen by popular vote of their classmates.

“We came to law school to examine and contend with the law: what it was, where it is now, and what it should be,” Asebiomo said. “And, knowingly or not, we came to law school to learn about ourselves and our place in the world, our place as changemakers.” 

Asebiomo praised her classmates for providing resources for students grappling with the pandemic and remote learning and for conducting anti-racism training through the Advanced Mediation Clinic. “It’s been us—the students—who have created some of the most enriching and beautiful opportunities here by using our own time, attention, and labor,” she said. “I am graduating among people who will not only change legal education but who will also change the world. And as always seems to be the case, this change is urgent.”

Follow the example of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59, Asebiomo said: “Her teaching that most touched me was this: She was the one who needed to feel most comfortable with her decisions. As we make decisions now and as future lawyers, we must be comfortable that our decisions are resonant with justice. . . . This is a reminder that for some us, myself included, the revolution is reality.” 

Dayton asked students to remember all they had overcome to get to and through law school and to acknowledge the help of those who believed in them. “It is likely that we all would not be here today if not for someone who pushed us past those struggles and saw in us something more than we saw in ourselves,” he said, adding that in his case, his wife, Heather, “encouraged me daily to keep pressing on and believed that if I did, I would someday succeed. Without her, I would not be here today.”

After graduation, it is time to pay that help forward, Dayton said. “It is likely that most of us will have doors opened because of our time here and our degree from this university. May we be willing to not rush in but stand and hold open those doors for others who have not yet been so fortunate. Although our focus now shifts to putting our knowledge and education to use, may we not do so in selfishness, but with a strong desire to help others.”

Maeve Glass ’09 Awarded Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Graduation Co-Chair Austin Collier ’21 introduced Associate Professor Maeve Glass ’09, winner of the 2021 Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and praised her ability “to connect with and inspire her students so deeply, during and outside of class, even with the challenges presented by the pandemic and distance learning this past year.” That connection, he said, “shows the depth of her dedication to teaching, which is rivaled only by her scholarship.”

Glass, whose scholarship has focused on the legal history of slavery, reminded graduates of Pierson v. Post, the foundational property law case from 1804 about a hunters’ dispute over a fox. “This old case has one last, parting lesson to teach us,” she said. “Every story we tell, every constellation of facts we assemble, has a frame. Change the frame, and you change the story. Change the stories that matter, and you might just change the world.”

The fox case exists in “a frame of erasure” that ignores “a vast web of stolen lands and stolen lives” in the history of the United States, Glass said. She urged students always to “question that which you assume to be settled, bring your whole self to bear, and do it with love and humility.”

“We need to listen to the words of the abolitionists, the refugees, the removed, the theorists, the lawyers, the poets, the artists who rose up and refused to sit down, who, at the risk of their own lives, kept a record of wrongs that could not be heard in the courts of law,” she said. “We are the beneficiaries of those who dared to question that opening frame, those who lifted up and made audible the truths that it could not, would not hold. As lawyers, leaders, teachers, we are duty-bound to continue the tradition they began.”

“Keep changing the frame, and you will make this world a little more empathetic, a little more compassionate, a little more just.” 

Secretary Blinken: Strengthening Our Justice System Is Urgent Work

Collier also introduced the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken ’88, who before his confirmation in January to the Biden administration cabinet had previously served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor in the Obama administration. Blinken, who was awarded Columbia Law School’s Medal for Excellence in 2016, is “a dedicated Columbia alumnus, an author, and a musician who you can listen to on Spotify under the name ‘Ablinken.’”

Speaking three months into his tenure as secretary of state, Blinken told graduates that supporting the rule of law is “a foreign policy priority as well as a national one” in the face of threats to human rights and democracy worldwide.

“Authoritarianism is on the rise,” he said. “The autocrats are making the argument that they can deliver for their people in a way that democracy can’t. So the challenge we face today is to prove not only that democracy can deliver results for people, but that it can do it in a way that’s fair, equitable, transparent, humane. Our ability to stand up for these values depends on whether we’re living up to them at home.”

Blinken, the 71st U.S. Secretary of State, cited John Jay, the nation’s first, who graduated from King’s College (as Columbia was then known) in 1764. 

Jay, who went on to be the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, “understood that our country’s greatest source of strength would be our commitment to the rule of law,” Blinken said. “The most powerful people in the land—judges, legislators, executive officers, including the President of the United States—are bound by the law just like everyone else.” 

That commitment has been tested throughout the nation’s history, he said. “We’ve seen how justice can be deeply unequal for people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized populations. We’ve seen rights that should be sacred, like the right to vote, under threat.”

To confront the failings of the nation in living up to its values of fairness and equity “can be painful, even ugly,” Blinken said. “But it makes us who we are, and, I believe, it sets us apart from other countries. That’s the spirit that we’ve got to bring to the urgent work of strengthening our justice system to make sure it honors the principle that all people are truly equal in rights and in dignity. And as the most recent graduates of one of the most distinguished law schools on Earth, no one is better positioned to do this work than you.”

Blinken also spoke to the international students among the graduates: “Columbia has an outstanding tradition of educating women and men from abroad who then become legal scholars, advocates, diplomats, and judges around the world. You in particular have a powerful opportunity to stand up for democracy and the rule of law around the world.” 

He concluded his speech by reminding all students that “whatever your path, you can protect equal justice through the work you do. . . . You can do it by speaking up for people whose voices are silenced and challenging your colleagues and peers to do better for the planet and the less powerful. You can do it by bringing others along with you. You know this. The law can be inaccessible, confounding, intimidating, especially for those people whose lives are most affected by it. You have the knowledge to navigate it. You can make it legible to others. And in this way, you can empower them to fight for justice too.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2021!

“We are unique to the history of this university, and I am glad that our paths crossed here. Onwards.”—Graduation Co-Chair Chizoba D. Ukairo ’21

Members of the Class of 2021 pose in front of an illustration of campus

Graduates celebrating their reunion years welcome the newest members of the Columbia Law School alumni network with words of wisdom.

Class of 1966

Mark A. Jacoby

“If you choose private practice rather than public service, always make time for pro bono work. It is not only an aspect of your ethical responsibilities, but a most fulfilling activity.”

Class of 1971

Mark A. Belnick

“Be bold. Take chances. Your CLS degree opens a world of opportunities, some of which you may discover only when you head to your preferred destination post graduation. Don’t shut the doors that a CLS degree opens. You may favor (perhaps correctly) private practice at a major law firm, but after undertaking it, you may feel drawn to the public sector or academia. Take the shot! You won’t know if another path suits you without giving it a try. . . . With a CLS degree, the road you follow will always be two way.”

Class of 1971

Max W. Berger

“Follow your passion. If necessary, you can always compromise later in life.”

Class of 1971

Arthur S. Kaufman CC ’68

“Find something you love to do. Do not be so influenced by the prestige of the position that you are engaged in work that you do not look forward to do.”

Class of 1976

John J. Kerr

“This pandemic will pass. When it does there will be new opportunities that didn’t exist before. . . . In a long career as a lawyer, there will be many twists and turns and numerous phases. This year is a challenge. Be flexible. Make the best of the opportunity you have, and keep the long perspective in mind.”

Class of 1981

Alfred G. Feliu CC ’78

“Get the best experience you can early on: Become a good and trusted counselor first, and then take the path that will bring you the most joy. If you do the latter first, you are less likely to have the rewarding career you deserve.”

Class of 1981

Barbara Wagner SIPA ’80

“The law, and how it is practiced, has changed so much since we all graduated—and us old fogies have no clue how fast, or how, it will change—so this is not specific advice, but general career advice: Work hard, but draw some boundaries. Show excitement or eagerness, even when you’re overwhelmed, but don’t hesitate to ask questions. Apply critical thinking—always, whatever you do. Aim to be a lifelong learner. . . . Maintain cordial relationships with everyone—but always try to find a couple people who will have your back.”

Class of 1981

B. Kathleen Munguia

“Be flexible. A change in direction in your career and in your personal life is not a failure, it is a new opportunity. Be grateful and kind—expect nothing for that, but it will be returned more often than not.”

Class of 1981

Laura Pula Cook

“Start networking now, and never stop. . . . I don’t mean just when you need a job. I mean make connections, reach out, initiate contacts, have lunch, give updates, find mentors, keep in touch with former colleagues and classmates and even professors, and tend these relationships so that you have them when you need them.”

Class of 1986

Douglas A. Doetsch

“Give some serious thought to what type of legal work will truly interest you—long day after long day. And then pursue that work.”

Class of 1986

Nobuhisa Ishizuka CC ’82

“You have more power over your future than you think. Take ownership of your career, and don’t settle for others determining your success or fulfillment.”

Class of 1986

Carmen G. Rodriguez

“The ‘Esq.’ at the end of your name carries great privilege and responsibility. Remember to listen to your clients and appreciate their fears or concerns. You have this incredible power to help them.”

Class of 1986

Jonathan L. Walcoff

“The world will change in many ways, but the qualities of a good lawyer won’t. Be open to new technology and approaches, but maintain the essential attributes that those you admire have always demonstrated.”

Class of 1991

Scott A. Barshay

“A commitment to excellence is likely what got you to and through Columbia Law School. This is not the time to abandon it or rest on your laurels! Sticking to that commitment in the years following law school is the foundation to a successful career either in or outside the law.”

Class of 1991

Andrew R. Dominus

“Make sure you like what you’re doing and you like the people you’re doing it with. If you’re not happy with the work you’re doing but you like the people, don’t be afraid to discuss with someone senior . . . to find an area within the firm you’ll enjoy more; if you’re any good, they’ll want to help you do that. . . . But if you like your work, but don’t like the people you’re working with, work hard on finding a better place to practice. And if you don’t like any practice, find something else to do—it’s OK!”

Class of 1996

Nicolas Bourtin

“Never turn down an opportunity to learn something new. Career paths take strange and unexpected turns, and chance moments can lead you to the thing you love to do most. Be open to the possibilities.”

Class of 1996

Claudia M. Marmolejo LL.M.

“Build an emotional bank that can support you on your rainy days. Get a personal board of directors who can help you identify your blind spots.” 

Class of 2001

David G. Bruder

“Don’t follow the crowd; follow your heart. Make sure what you are doing serves your answer to the question, ‘Why did you go to law school?’”

Class of 2001

Iris S. Chen

“Be flexible, and adapt to change. You will find yourself in work environments, situations, etc., that evolve over time; when you find yourself in those situations, rather than resisting or trying to preserve the status quo, think about ways you can adapt your strengths and ways of working to those changes and see them as an opportunity to step up and accelerate your growth.”

Class of 2001

Sean C. Duffy

“As a lawyer, you may have a long career in this profession. It’s difficult to see where you may end up. . . . keep sight of who you are and what you hope to accomplish in your lifetime. You will have opportunities to pursue your ambitions. Take them when the time is right.”

Class of 2001

Alia Tutor

“Listen and learn from others . . . particularly to your clients. While you’ve been skillfully trained to issue spot, always listen to what your client ultimately wants to achieve and work to bridge the gap and deal make as opposed to deal break.”

Class of 2006

W. Allen Bonner

“Worry less about your first job out of law school, or if you’re clerking, your first job after your clerkship. It will define your path far less than you think.”

Class of 2006

Bob A. Rivollier LL.M.

“Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams—and to change paths if your dreams change. Change can be scary, but nothing better positions you for success in whatever you choose to do than your Columbia education.”


Andrea C. Saavedra

“Remember that you are each other’s greatest resource at every stage of your careers. Be sure to remain, at a minimum, professional contacts and, at best, friends—if not even family. When you can help, please do. And when you need help, don’t hesitate to ask each other first. . . . You are there to help one another as classmates, even if you all end up in many different directions.”


Nandini Khaitan LL.M.

“Maintain the friendships you made at law school. They are the ones that were made without agenda, are real, and will be by your side in the future.”