On May 14, the Cornell Law School class of 2017 met in Newman Arena for its final convocation. Graduates and their guests were greeted by Eduardo M. Peñalver, Allan R. Tessler Dean and professor of law, who delivered the opening address.
Observing the current challenges to diversity, democracy, and the rule of law in the United States and around the world, Peñalver asserted that Cornell’s “democracy-preserving mission” and commitment to pluralism and reasoned debate remained unshaken. He added, “It’s in keeping with Cornell’s tradition that today, Cornell Law School is the most diverse top law school in the country.”
Martha E. Pollack, who became the 14th president of Cornell University in April, took to the podium to congratulate the present graduates. She also recognized the twelve students enrolled in the inaugural year of Cornell Tech’s law, technology, and entrepreneurship L.L.M. program.
J.D. speaker Victor Pinedo reminded his classmates that their degree is “a gift made possible by the sacrifices of others—family, friends, mentors, professors, loved ones, and even mere acquaintances. It is their support, their encouragement, and their sacrifice that has allowed us to be here today. No matter where you start your practice of law, be sure to impart this gift to others.”
L.L.M. speaker Winnie O. Awino shared a saying popular among the people of her tribe in Uganda: Respect is knowledge. “I implore you to respect yourself and to respect those around you, without distinction as to sex, as to race, as to color, as to political affiliation, or whatever unnecessary divisions the world unfairly forces on us. We are all human, and that’s all there should be.”
The faculty address was delivered by Sheri Lynn Johnson, James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law and assistant director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, which she co-founded in 1993. Johnson, an expert on the interface of race and issues in criminal procedure, was chosen to speak by the graduating class.
In keeping with the reminders she has called after her own nine children as they have headed out the door at various times, Johnson offered the class of 2017 three “don’t forgets” for the road.
First, she said, don’t forget who you are. “[Y]ou were a good person, a kind person, a generous person before you were a lawyer. You have to hold onto that, because the research shows that when people get power, they are more likely to be rule breaking and less likely to be
empathetic.” She urged the graduates to be conscientious in their dealings with their clients and their support staff, and to speak up against bigoted policies and speech.
Second, Johnson told the graduates, don’t forget where you came from. She encouraged students to give back to their communities and exhorted those from privileged backgrounds to stand in solidarity with marginalized groups.
Finally, she told them, don’t forget why you went to law school. “I ask all of you to remember why you went to law school and, before you are done as a lawyer, to bend the long moral arc of the universe just a little closer to justice.
“And one more thing: drive carefully.”
Following Johnson’s speech, Markeisha Miner, dean of students, recognized the graduates individually before convocation attendees adjourned to the Myron Taylor Hall courtyard for a reception.