After nearly thirty-seven years at the Law School, guiding thousands of students through Cornell and beyond, Anne Lukingbeal began and ended her farewell with a story about an Airedale. “On Susa’s last day at doggie daycare, we picked her up and to our surprise, all of the staff rushed out to the door,” she said, standing at the podium in the new academic wing’s first floor atrium. “They were hugging her, kissing her, and yelling, ‘This is it, Susa! Goodbye, girl!’ She licked a few faces, hopped in the car, and never looked back. That was it.”
Saying goodbye could never be as simple for Dean Lukingbeal, who arrived at Cornell Law in 1978, fresh from three years as a public defender in Los Angeles. She started as assistant dean and director of admissions, driving around New England to meet potential Cornellians, and having ultimate responsibility for who would (and wouldn’t) be admitted. She loved the work, but she wanted more involvement in students’ daily lives. So in 1984, Lukingbeal became associate dean for student affairs, and in 1988, she was named associate dean and dean of students, where she remained until retirement, her impact expanding as she grew increasingly central to the life of the Law School.
"Dean Lukingbeal has been a pivotal figure in the history of Cornell Law," said Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, hosting the retirement reception on March 19. "As a leader in admissions, financial aid, student services, the LLM program, the registrar's office, academic support, career services, public service, and in her role as dean of students, Anne provided counsel to generations of students, providing a helping hand no matter the time of day and serving as a faculty advisor to a wide range of groups.
"As I've traveled over the last nine months, people have expressed to me over and over again what enormous impact Anne had on their educational experiences, on their careers, on their lives," continued Peñalver. "On a more personal note, Anne has been one of the constants at the Law School since my arrival in 2006, and as I moved from being a junior faculty member to a tenured faculty member and now dean, I've benefitted from the depth of her knowledge at every step."
For Peñalver and all who followed, the obvious question was how Dean Lukingbeal could be replaced; the obvious answer was that she couldn't. "At times, it helps to remember that no one is irreplaceable, and that every loss presents an opportunity for growth and change," said Barbara Holden-Smith, vice dean, professor of law, and two-time winner of the Women's Law Coalition's Anne Lukingbeal Award. "But I now realize that this is not always true. For Anne is irreplaceable, both for the Law School and for me personally."
Peñalver had already listed some of Lukingbeal's major contributions to the profession: serving on the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Competence, the National Association of Law Placement Board of Directors, the Bar Admission Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education, and the Law School Admissions Council Board of Trustees. Each speaker who followed added a few more: Lukingbeal's work with student groups, including the Cornell Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association, the Lambda Law Association, the Latino American Students Association, the Native American Students Association, and the Women's Law Coalition, and her role as liaison to the Prelaw Advisory Network, the Mental Health Council, and the Cornell Advocates for Rape Education.
George A. Hay, the Charles Frank Reavis Sr. Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, praised Lukingbeal's skill at decision making, saying "her judgment is impeccable and her good, old-fashioned common sense is off the charts. No matter how talented her successor, we will miss Anne's broad perspective, her insight into the workings of the school, and her wisdom." Sheri Lynn Johnson, associate dean for public engagement and the James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law, called Lukingbeal "a force for students," thanking her on behalf of "all the alumni who would not be lawyers today were it not for Anne."
Adding another perspective, Christine Kim '15, editor-in-chief of the Law Review and former president of the Women's Law Coalition, spoke as one of the 294 students who met with the dean for one-on-one advising in the past year, calling Lukingbeal "a model of what it looks like to care about a problem and work tirelessly for a more just result."
"More than anything, she is kind," said Zoe Jones '15, past president of the Cornell Law Students Association, who applauded Lukingbeal's unwavering support for diversity. "But most importantly, she is fierce. She is a fierce advocate for the students she serves, for the causes she supports, and for the people she believes in. She has made the Law School somewhere where every student has a place, where every student feels comfortable."
Stepping to the podium, Peñalver presented Lukingbeal with a few parting gifts: a framed mock-up of the Law Forum with her face on the cover, a Cornell glider chair, and a set of memory books compiled by students, staff, and faculty. Next, it was time to toast the guest of honor, led by E.F. Roberts, the Edwin H. Woodruff Professor of Law Emeritus, who alluded to T.S. Eliot's "Cape Ann," Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again, and his own bottom line: "I must confess," he said, "that with any objective cost-benefit analysis, you are the winner in this equation."
Finally, it was Lukingbeal's turn, which she used to talk about her Airedale and bring her term to a close. "You could be shouting, 'This is it, Anne! Goodbye, girl!'" said Lukingbeal, who's moving to Asheville, North Carolina, where she plans to spend her retirement biking, walking, learning Spanish, and doing pro bono work. "But there is no way that I could just hop in the car and drive away without looking back. Cornell Law School and its people will be with me forever. This is definitely an excellent time to begin another phase of life, with luck containing a bit more time to relax. But I will miss you all very much. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou, 'They will forget what you said and they will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.' Thanks so much for making me feel so wonderful today."