Under clear blue skies at the outdoor Greek Theatre, Berkeley Law's commencement ceremony for the Class of 2008 was both festive and poignant.
Guest speaker Mary M. Schroeder urged graduates to honor the school with their deeds, faculty speaker Anne Joseph O'Connell hailed their dedication to public service, and student speaker Hector Huezo lauded their efforts to improve the student experience for future classes to come.
The law school awarded 330 J.D., 82 LL.M, eight JSD, and five JSP degrees. Student award recipients were Gerard J. Sinzdak (Thelen Marrin Prize for Academic Achievement), Tova D. Wolking (Thelen Marrin Prize for Law Journal Writing), Michael Kalikow (Jamison Prize for Scholarship and Advocacy), and Huezo (Student Service Award).
"A School of Law and Social Justice"
Schroeder, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, was one of only six women in her graduating law school class at the University of Chicago in 1965. Appointed to the Ninth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, she served as the circuit's first female chief judge from 2000 to 2007.
Recounting the often unexpected career paths of four of her law clerks who attended Berkeley Law, Schroeder said they remembered it as "a school of law and social justice," and a place that emphasizes "the human element of the law."
She called the school's legacy "a unique and fiercely independent one and something to be very proud of." In closing, Schroeder encouraged graduates to "make the name Berkeley Law mean something … as each class will define the school over and over again."
O'Connell described the diverse interests and strong commitment to service she saw in the Class of 2008, which includes a bluegrass musician, a novelist, and students who created the first Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Law. She also commended the work of a number of student advocates for youth and education, death row inmates, and human rights.
Cautioning that setbacks are to be expected in anyone's career, she offered this advice: "I hope you will lose yourself long enough to find yourself again."
Huezo, co-president of the Class of 2008, applauded the lasting improvements his class made to students' quality of life. In particular, he cited the launching of a pilot recycling program and working to ensure that all student journals and organizations will remain onsite in the years to come.
Student speaker, former diplomat, and newly minted LL.M Zhengang Wei remarked on the "diversity, modesty, tenacity and romantic hearts" he encountered in his LL.M community, and noted that "what we have experienced will endure and enrich our lives forever."
While the atmosphere was celebratory, there was a bittersweet moment bidding farewell to Dean of Students Victoria Ortiz. After nearly 10 years at Berkeley Law, Ortiz said a heartfelt goodbye to her students and staff, and both student speakers remarked on the consistent, exceptional support she provided during her time at the school.
A True Berkeley Graduation
The event also featured political overtones. Outside the Greek Theatre, protestors expressed their disapproval of the school's decision to keep John Yoo, constitutional law professor and former Department of Justice legal counsel, on the faculty. Inside, student and faculty speakers invoked such topics as educational access, civil liberties, workers' rights, and the recent gay marriage ruling by the California Supreme Court.
Many students and some faculty wore green cords to show solidarity with University service workers who are in the midst of contract negotiations. Others donned armbands in red, orange and green, denoting support of educational access, civil liberties, and antiwar stances, respectively.
Some audience members also wore orange ribbons distributed by the protesters, and Dean Edley reminded the graduates and their families about the importance of law in governing society. He cited the abuses at Abu Ghraib as an example of what can happen when law is absent, and highlighted the school's sponsorship of an exhibit of Fernando Botero paintings depicting torture at Abu Ghraib.
Edley called on the Class of 2008 to forever be students of the law, problem solvers for society, and to sustain the community it built here as students. "In the years to come," he said, "we hope you will feel pride for Boalt, not just in what it was, or is today, but for what it can be in the future."