By Andrew Cohen
Political turmoil revealing the fragility of American democracy, complete with a riot at the United States Capitol. Repeated incidents exposing racial injustice. Persistent area fires sparking dangerous air quality and a run on N-95 masks. A global pandemic turning law school education — and life itself — upside down.
Over the years, Berkeley Law students have faced wide-ranging challenges. But any credible judge would rule that none faced more simultaneous stressors than the Class of 2021.
Even so, this year’s graduates displayed remarkable tenacity, resilience, and compassion while pursuing their degree, advocating for clients and causes, supporting their classmates, and overcoming obstacles.
When the pandemic forced them to shelter in place and take classes online, they forged a sense of community in creative ways, from virtual cooking and craft circles to trivia nights and talent shows. And while it’s not the law school experience they envisioned, they still created foundational friendships, gained lifelong lessons, and inspired faculty and staff.
We asked this year’s graduates to share memories and insights about their tumultuous time at Berkeley Law. Jenna Waldman recalled inviting her grandfather, a fellow lawyer, to watch her Written and Oral Advocacy class 1L oral argument at the Ninth Circuit.
“It was an incredibly meaningful opportunity to show him how much I had learned in just one year of law school,” she wrote. “He loved being there to support me and to see how excited I was to become a lawyer. He told me I was right where I belonged. My grandpa passed away less than a year later, and although he won’t be with me physically at graduation, I’ll feel his presence that day at the Ninth Circuit for the rest of my legal career.”
Amid the ongoing challenges, graduates such as former Student Association of Berkeley Law Co-President Linda Blair described finding strength in each other.
“The community building at Berkeley Law is unmatched; there really is a place for everyone because Berkeley attracts people who care about one another and are willing to go above and beyond to be supportive,” she wrote. “This community has made me more open and inviting of people from all walks of life, and it has been the most meaningful part of my experience here.”
Given all that Blair and her classmates had to overcome, the impact of that community proved pivotal.
“Often it seemed like there were more bad events than good happening and so I often had to remind myself to take a step back and just breathe,” wrote Molly Lao. “Law school isn’t easy without all of the stuff our class went through, so I’m just proud of each of us for making it to this milestone.”
Here are more reflections from the Class of 2021:
What’s been the most meaningful part of your time at Berkeley Law?
Karla Maradiaga: “Winning asylum for my client while pregnant and getting to experience my 3L year with my amazing daughter.”
Clara Knapp: “Meeting amazing friends who exemplify the kind of person I want to be, both personally and professionally.”
Konstantina Margariti LL.M.: “I now better understand the way things work across the world. Attending Berkeley Law has given me the chance of interacting with young professionals from a great number of countries and learning to a great extent the way people from different cultural backgrounds think and live.”
Ernesto Rojas Guzman: “Berkeley Law introduced me to friends I now see as family and solidified my relationship with my loved ones. There was never a moment where I felt alone — none of this would be possible without their support.”
Minho Roh LL.M.: “Getting a high-quality education from professors at the highest level … meeting my little sister who lives in the Bay Area. “
Savelle Jefferson: “I’ve said it multiple times but it’s the people. The people I’ve met here are incredibly brilliant and motivated but also some of the most down to earth human beings.”
Miho Nakashima LL.M.: “I am glad that I could see professors and friends at UC Berkeley, even though most classes are online due to the pandemic. I learned IP and information privacy law and worked on new things such as computer programing and the IANGEL project. One computer broadened my world.”
Alexa Homewood: “I have been so fortunate to meet incredible people and form long-lasting friendships!”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, what have you missed most about not being able to attend classes in person and gather with your classmates?
Ben Adler: “I missed the random encounters in the hall between classes and the ability to catch up with friends over lunch in Café Zeb or out on the patio.”
Talha Mirza: “I miss the Gregoire sandwiches from lunch talks.”
Liz Bramley: “Bar Review.”
Donovan Blount: “The small things, like shaking my professor’s hand or giving a classmate a hug after a final exam.”
Lyric Stephenson: “Spontaneous lunch dates with my classmates at Café Zeb!”
Simone Levine: “The Halloween journal party.”
Kelsey Peden: “I missed lunch talks, free food, and the hallway catch-ups with people between classes. It was always so nice to run into people you hadn’t seen in weeks, and just see how things are going. You don’t get to have that over Zoom. “
How would you describe attending law school during such a chaotic time even without the pandemic?
Ashley Johnson: “Earning a J.D. at this point in time has never felt more relevant. Time and again, from experiencing smoke, anxiety over the election, racial reckoning, orange skies, and an insurrection, I have seen both the limits and power of the law to shape our world.”
Josh Sedgwick: “Inspiring and at times humbling.”
Raja Krishna: “One of the best times in history to be in law school. Stressful, but showing the importance of law and regulation in shaping our lives and livelihoods.”
Jareli Reynoso Gutierrez: “Frustrating to witness the slow crawl towards justice and the turn away from justice depending on what community is affected.”
Jinyu (Jim) Su LL.M.: “There are plenty of things beyond legal studies.”
Maya Harmon: “As a Black woman, the constant trauma of seeing Black and Brown people killed by police seemingly every day was almost too much to bear. It was difficult to know that I was expected to complete the readings, participate in class, and keep up with my extracurricular activities in the midst of so much devastation.”
Deepika Raikwar LL.M.: “Mixed emotions; it is surely a difficult time to stay focused on online learning when so much is happening in the world.”
What was your favorite school extracurricular activity and why?
Kacey Read: “Pro bono work at the East Bay Community Law Center, and the law school soccer team!”
Stephanie Dilworth: “I really enjoyed my 1L SLP (Student-Initiated Legal Services Project), the La Raza Workers’ and Tenants’ Rights Clinic. I think especially as a 1L you need reminders of all the good you will do with this degree. You need reminders that this is a service career and you have so much impactful work waiting for you.”
Grace Winschel: “OWLS (Older, Wiser Law Students). It’s a club that I’d recommend to anyone who took a few (or many!) years off before going back to law school. Sometimes being an older student can feel isolating. OWLS helps!”
See more photos from the Class of 2021 here.
Idrian Mollaneda: “I’ve loved all the affinity groups that I’ve been part of, especially the ones I got to lead — the Pilipinx American Law Society and Queer Caucus — because those were the places where I most felt like I belonged, like I had a community of folks with shared backgrounds and values.”
Francesco Arreaga: “Co-leading the American Constitution Society … organizing a Social, Racial, and Economic Justice speaker series to try to maintain community in the midst of a pandemic … volunteering to teach elementary school students about the U.S. Constitution in both English and Spanish.”
Rachel Terrell-Perica: “ADR Negotiations and Mediation Team. Developing negotiation skills and competing allowed for skills building that is directly relevant to being an attorney. Being on the team especially as a 3L was the best part of law school — the community and quality of the ADR team members was exceptional.”
Michael Fu: “My favorite school extracurricular activity was playing basketball with our Berkeley Law intramural team. Miss you guys!”
What’s something about the Berkeley Law community that most people don’t know?
Brandon Ayersman: “Most people don’t know about the secret bathroom at the law school. I won’t be spilling this secret anytime soon.”
Mohsin Mirza: “How much work, through clinics and SLPS, we already do and what a difference we can make through them before we even graduate.”
Daniel Twomey: “Even if it’s 50 and cold, you can still get a wicked sunburn.”
Mohsin Saleem Ullah LL.M.: “Berkeley Law alumni chapters across the globe are well-equipped and resourced groups, helping their alumni community to find jobs, engaging in social work, and regularly arranging alumni meet-ups and send-off events for the incoming classes.”
Henry W. Leung: “This is an institution of unexpected grace.”
Casey Duckworth: “Your peers truly become a second family.”
Jasjit Mundh: “I think you really can’t experience the genuine kindness that the Berkeley Law community exudes without being here. Their charisma, innate desire to make the world better, and optimism is contagious. Thank you for a great three years!”