Law School Honors Class of 2015 at 127th Commencement Exercises
The University of Minnesota Law School held its 127th commencement ceremony May 16 at Northrop Memorial Auditorium. Dean David Wippman welcomed the Class of 2015, their families and friends, and several special guests: University of Minnesota Regent Darrin Rosha (’96), general manager and corporate counsel for Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan, Minn.; Allen Levine, the University’s vice provost for faculty and academic affairs; and the keynote speaker, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page (’78).
Before making his introductory comments, Dean Wippman asked the parents, spouses, partners, and children of the graduates to stand and be recognized for their vital support. Then he offered a blend of humor and wisdom, quoting from such diverse figures as Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, and educator/entrepreneur Salman Khan. The dean pointed out that the advice from Bharara and Khan was somewhat contradictory—”we like to call that arguing in the alternative,” he quipped. He told the graduates, “Look to your left. Now look to your right…. Seated next to you are future leaders of the bench and bar, of government, business, and nonprofits. In all likelihood, you will be one of those leaders.”
Having introduced the members of the Law School faculty, Dean Wippman moved on to present the annual Stanley V. Kinyon Teaching Awards for Excellence in Education, established by family and friends in honor of the late Prof. Stanley V. Kinyon (’33), a recognized commercial law scholar and member of the Law School faculty for 40 years. This year’s awards were given to:
Ann M. Burkhart: Overall Teacher of the Year
Prentiss Cox (’90): Clinical Teacher of the Year
JaneAnne Murray: Adjunct Teacher of the Year
Three special student awards also were presented at the commencement ceremonies. Jennifer Mayu Warfield, chair of the Student Commencement Committee, presented two of the awards, whose recipients were selected by their classmates for exceptional contributions inside and outside the classroom during the three years of study.
Lauren Roso was honored with the Outstanding Contribution Award. During her 1L year, Roso volunteered with the Minnesota Justice Foundation’s Street Law program and spent the following summer clerking with the Child Protection Division of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. In her 2L year, she served as a legal writing instructor, a managing research editor on the Minnesota Law Review, and a co-chair of the Journal Petition Committee, then worked as a summer associate at Dorsey & Whitney while also representing clients through the Detainee Rights Clinic. Her 3L year found her planning journal banquets and serving as a BARBRI representative and a member of the Commencement Committee. Throughout, she has drawn on her experience overcoming personal loss to provide love and support to peers going through difficult times. Roso will go on to clerk for Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea before starting a career in civil litigation at Dorsey & Whitney.
The Excellence in Public Service Award was presented to Evan Gelles, who came to law school with experience at a variety of public service organizations. During law school, Gelles developed a passion for public defense. He represented disadvantaged juvenile clients as a Certified Student Attorney at the Legal Rights Center, a nonprofit poverty criminal defense law firm, and served as an advocate for low-income, diverse clients in criminal defense hearings as a Certified Student Attorney at the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office and the Criminal Justice Clinic at the Law School. Gelles also interned at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where he researched and drafted memoranda related to current inequities in Chicago. His research and writing informed staff attorneys about how to best preserve affordable housing, reduce exclusionary disciplinary practices in Chicago charter schools, and promote greater access and opportunity for communities of color. Gelles is looking forward to a career as an advocate for the disadvantaged.
Dean Wippman presented the third special student award—the William B. Lockhart Award for Excellence in Scholarship, Leadership, and Service, whose recipient is selected by a faculty committee. The award honors the Law School’s fifth dean and 28-year faculty member for his dedication in enriching the curriculum, attracting leading scholars, and sharing his gift for teaching. This year’s Lockhart Award was given to Caitlinrose Fisher, whose achievements, said the dean, “place her in that rare category of people who actually fulfill the sometimes lofty goals of a law school admissions essay.” Fisher was a leader and mentor to fellow students as a legal writing instructor, lead articles editor of the Minnesota Law Review, Minnesota Justice Foundation student board member, events coordinator for the Women’s Law Student Association, and passionate advocate for student balance and wellness initiatives. She earned top grades and numerous book awards, published a note in the Minnesota Law Review, and served as a research assistant for four professors, on topics ranging from employment discrimination to the rule of law. She also contributed to the Center for New Americans’ Supreme Court brief on in the case of Mellouli v. Holder. After interning this summer with the Department of Justice’s Office of the Solicitor General, Fisher will move on to a 9th Circuit clerkship with Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas, and then an 8th Circuit clerkship with Judge Diana Murphy.
Dean Wippman also called attention to numerous other students who were recognized for participation in journals, moot courts, and other activities at a special ceremony and reception on May 15.
Dean Wippman announced that the class of 2015 will continue the 3L Pledge Drive established five years ago by making annual financial contributions to the Law School for the next three years. This gift means that one person from the class of 2015 will receive a $5,000 fellowship to engage in public interest work. In honor of the class of 2015’s generosity, the Law School will fund the installation of a whiteboard wall in a student area of the subplaza in Mondale Hall.
LL.M. Class of 2015 Graduation Address
This year’s LL.M. class of 53 students from 18 countries selected Sanaa Assa to deliver a graduation address. Assa is from the Netherlands, where she received her master’s degree in international and European law from Tilburg University. At the Law School, she focused on environmental and energy law and was an LL.M. student representative to the Minnesota Justice Foundation student chapter. In her address, Assa spoke warmly of her fellow students and the Law School’s faculty and staff. “I started out thinking that law school in the U.S. would leave me locked up in my room, without any free time at all,” she said. However, she found out, law students do have a social life—and they spend a surprising amount of time volunteering. “I had no idea it was considered an obvious thing to dedicate your already precious time as a law student to working for free. When volunteering myself, I realized that it was not for free. The amount of appreciation and happy faces you receive back is a compensation you more gladly accept than a check. This is something I hope to bring back home so that our society may learn from yours.”
J.D. Class of 2015 Graduation Address
Sushmitha Rajeevan was chosen by her J.D. classmates to deliver the 2015 graduation address. Rajeevan graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 2012 with a degree in biomedical engineering. At the Law School, while pursuing a concentration in intellectual property law, she was a member of Law Council for three years (the last year as president), and she served on the boards of the American Constitution Society and the South Asian Law Students Association. Following her 1L year, she worked as a legal intern at Boston Scientific. During her 2L year, Rajeevan clerked at Faegre Baker Daniels, and the following summer she worked as an associate at Shumaker & Sieffert, where she will return this fall to begin her career.
Rajeevan’s address combined sincerity and a deft comic touch: “During these past three years… we represented countless clients through the clinics, served the community in numerous ways, and took our fight for justice to the Supreme Court. Not to mention we straight-up partied with Notorious RBG. Ahem—I mean we had an insightful discussion with Justice Ginsberg.” She urged her fellow graduates to do work that matters, to be a force for good, and to have a vision, but reminded them that “it’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.” She praised the sense of family that developed among the members of the class of 2015 but reminded her classmates of the debt of gratitude they owe to their actual families, and she returned to that theme for her conclusion: “Every day, take a moment, a single breath even, to show your gratitude for the bounty in your life—gratitude to your loved ones for their support, gratitude to your community for the opportunities extended to you, gratitude to your teachers for your education, and gratitude to yourself for having the courage to pursue your goals. Nothing we do will have meaning if we forget that we can see farther today because we stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us. We will make a mark one step, one gesture, one person at a time.”
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page (’78) gave the 2015 commencement address. The first African American to serve on Minnesota’s Supreme Court, he was elected to an open seat in 1992 and reelected in 1998, 2004, and 2010. Page was born in 1945 and grew up in Canton, Ohio. He attended college at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a football All-American. From 1967 to 1981, he was a star defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, and he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1971. Page earned his J.D. while still playing for the Vikings and worked as an associate for the Minneapolis firm Lindquist & Vennum from 1979 to 1984 (with time off during the football season). In 1985 he was appointed a special assistant in the Minnesota attorney general’s office, and was soon promoted to assistant attorney general, a post he held until joining the state’s high court. He is the founder of the Page Education Foundation, which assists students of color with postsecondary education in exchange for their commitment to spend time volunteering in the community. Since the foundation was established in 1988, it has awarded grants to more than 5,500 students, who in turn have provided more than 375,000 hours of volunteer service to young children.
In his address, Page combined reminiscences of his own time as a student at the Law School, hard-earned advice from his careers in football and the law, and incisive commentary on the racial issues and politics that have dominated the headlines of late. He talked about racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and how the views that underlie these disparities are “are dangerous to our democracy because those who hold such beliefs do not believe in equal justice under law.” He reminded the class of 2015 that “as graduates of this law school, we are among the privileged few,” adding, “As such, I believe we have some obligation to work to improve the lot of those who are less fortunate.” And he set forth a plan of action:
But what can you, aspiring future lawyers with crushing student loan debt and uncertain job prospects, do? Because the problems facing us are complex, we tend to think in terms of complex solutions. Or we think it’s someone else’s problem. As a result, individual effort seems insignificant. But I believe that the steps we take individually are significant. Ultimately, the problems we face are people problems, and the solutions will be found in the involvement of people like me and people like you. Whether it’s providing pro bono legal services for those in need, and for which there is a great need, or spending time working with children in schools, as I do—whatever it may be, you have the power to change the future. Our destiny is inextricably linked with your willingness to give of yourselves.
For his closing, Page—the co-author of two children’s books himself—chose a quotation from Dr. Suess’s The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
After remarks on behalf of the Board of Regents, Regent Rosha conferred degrees on the J.D., LL.M., and Masters of Science in Patent Law graduates. The J.D. class had selected Professors Laura Thomas and Brad Clary (’75) to present their diplomas; the LL.M. class chose Director of International and Graduate Programs Khary Hornsby (’05); and the M.S.P.L. class chose Program Director Chris Frank. Dean Wippman invited graduates and guests to a reception on the Northrop Mall and Plaza, and the commencement ceremonies concluded with the singing of “Hail, Minnesota!” led by singers from Theatre of the Relatively Talentless (TORT): Jake Dona (’16), Andrew Glasnovich (’16), Tracy Ann Hoyos-Lopez (’15), Tim Joyce (’17), Robin Lehninger (’15), Jennifer Mayu Warfield (’15) and Andrea Miller (’15). The St. Anthony Brass Quintet provided accompaniment and departing procession music.