With only three weeks remaining until the end of one deanship and the beginning of the next, Stewart J. Schwab and Eduardo Peñalver set the tone for Reunion 2014, standing side by side at the annual State of the Law School Address. A PowerPoint slide of the two of them as cartoons said it all: Schwab was the lame duck, and Peñalver the spring chicken. The duck had a pair of big shoes, and the chicken's feet were the perfect fit.
"Spring chickens grow fast, and they learn very quickly," promised Peñalver, the new Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School, speaking from experience. He's been raising a small brood for years, and the day before, he'd driven four chickens from Chicago to Trumansburg, back to the house he'd lived in as a law professor. Advancing to the next slide, Peñalver explained the pronunciation of his name with an image of a fountain pen, the word "Y'all," and a drawing of Yogi Bear. (The accent, as any Big Red alum could guess, is on the bear.)
Demonstrating his learning curve, Peñalver laid out a set of goals for the next five years, emphasizing the importance of recruiting and retaining the top law students in the country. To do that, he plans to increase the number of merit-based scholarships; broaden loan forgiveness; expand informal interactions between students and faculty; create clinics in transactional law and intellectual property; add an LL.M. focus on business and technology to New York City’s Cornell Tech campus; hire new faculty in empirical studies and intellectual property law; and deepen the Law School’s relationships with alumni.
It was a message that had audience members nodding their heads in agreement. “I think he’s going to do well,” said John Dorfman ’49, Reunion 2014’s oldest alum. “He seems to be very open to other people’s ideas. And that helps.”
“It’s important, both to students and to alumni, that the school maintains its reputation for academic excellence,” said Alex Harris ’14, one of Reunion’s newest alumni, celebrating with a table of classmates at the All-Class Cocktail Reception and Dinner Dance. As president of the Cornell Law Students Association, Harris had met Peñalver and come away persuaded. “Everyone is counting on the new dean to keep carrying the school forward, and I’m confident he will.”
That night in Purcell Courtyard, just a stone’s throw from the new Schwab Lawn, the theme of the dinner was tennis, one of Schwab’s favorite pastimes, and the mood was celebratory. Provost W. Kent Fuchs (listed on the program as “Ace”) served up a few of Schwab’s greatest accomplishments, bouncing from the Jack G. Clarke Institute for the Study and Practice of Business Law to the Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative, the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa, the Office of Public Service, the Graduate Fellowship Grant program, and the new wing for academic instruction.
For the “Approach Shot,” Julie Boden Adams’04, Minsuk Han ’14, and Robert Hillman ’72, the Edwin H. Woodruff Professor of Law, handled the next volley, praising Schwab for his vision, support, encouragement, judgment, modesty, and dedication. “Above all, Stewart is just a fundamentally decent and kind person, which in ways small and large has had an immeasurable effect on the tenor and culture of the Law School,” said Hillman, Schwab’s main competitor on the tennis court, quoting Professor Aziz Rana.
That set up Barbara Holden-Smith, vice dean and professor of law, to make the “game point,” presenting Stewart and Norma Schwab, his wife, with a Big Red wool blanket and rocking chair, which complemented the gift presented by Fuchs, a blueprint of the new East Wing, mounted on an oak wall panel that had been rescued from the old building.
From there, it was time for alumni to return to supper, playing mixed doubles with a main course of surf-and-turf, trading stories of life before and after law school, and reviewing highlights of the weekend. “Seeing my classmates at dinner last night,” said Gina-Gail Fletcher ’09, who spent 2012–2014 as a visiting assistant professor at Cornell Law. “We were able to get together for dinner at Zaza’s, and even though we stayed longer than the staff expected, it was nice to just sit around and reminisce.”
“Catching up with classmates,” said Pierre Armand ’99, who works as assistant United States attorney in the Southern District of New York. “I haven’t been up to Cornell in fifteen years, and when I was here as a student, I was constantly studying. So this was my opportunity to really enjoy the weekend, go on a hike, visit a winery, and have a cozy little dinner with the Class of 1999.”
“Singing ‘Softly’ with the Hangovers,” said Anthony Boyadjis ’84, who’d performed with the group as a law student. “It’s this soulful, beautiful ballad – ‘So I leave you softly, long before you miss me/long before your arms can beg me stay’ – and the Hangovers used to do it all the time, back in my day. Last night, we all had our arms around each other, standing in a big circle, and making this beautiful, beautiful music, just for ourselves. That was the most touching moment for me. So far. But the weekend isn’t over yet.”
Polling alumni from one end of the tent to the other, there were too many highlights to name them all: A tour of the new wing. A continuing education class on “How Technology is Changing the Practice of Law.” A panel discussion of the Defense of Marriage Act. Breakfast with the incoming and outgoing deans. Grabbing a bite at the old lunch truck. Dancing to big band music until late at night, then getting up early the next morning for a Reunion Run. And there was no shortage of advice–in Boyadjis’s words, “We’re all lawyers, so we all have something to say”–for Dean Peñalver, who was well out of listening range.
“Make sure the student experience is the best it can possibly be,” advised Dan Hartman ’14, taking a break from studying for the bar.