By Susan Gluss
Messages of hope, inspiration, and possibility warmed the spirits of the 2015 class of Berkeley Law despite the chilly, overcast day. Hundreds of graduates filled UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater for the May 15 commencement. Surrounded by friends and family, they exuded excitement over what they’d accomplished and what adventures lay ahead.
Student speakers urged their peers to stay engaged in issues they care about and savor the deep friendships forged at school. On behalf of the LL.M. graduates, Pedro Martini told his fellow classmates that “we all share a bond … that we’ll share the rest of our lives. We are part of a new family,” he said, formed during “an amazing year.”
Famid Sinha commended his classmates for achieving “extraordinary things in the service of others. Whether providing legal services to refugees, low-income workers, or local veterans,” he said, “our class has shown an unparalleled commitment to … making a difference in the world.”
Both Sinha and speaker Tamila Gresham bemoaned the tragic events that unfolded outside the law school in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Staten Island. They earned their degrees during a time when “unequal and discriminatory application of the law could not be more obvious,” Gresham told the crowd. She said she was “hopeful that we will use the voice, influence, and resources this law degree provides to create a world where everyone earns a living and equal wage, where we choose people over borders, where love is love, and where Black lives matter.”
Gresham’s hard-hitting speech led to a standing ovation among students, faculty, and much of the theater audience. She preceded Assistant Professor Andrew Bradt, who called the law “a work in progress.” From here on, he said, “you’re among those who will be making the edits. By virtue of a license to practice law, we have a special opportunity to make the world a more just place.”
Dean Sujit Choudhry praised guest speaker Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, for his dogged prosecution of criminals and corrupt politicians. The so-called “Sheriff of Wall Street” has inspired many a young graduate, Choudhry said.
Bharara encouraged the aspiring lawyers to do anything they wanted with their law degree. “A J.D. confers more mobility than just about any other professional degree,” he said. If you go to a law firm and don’t like it, you can go in-house, pursue public service, or “jump to litigation—and vice versa.”
In fact, he said, you don’t even have to practice law at all. He then recounted the story of his brother who left his legal practice to launch a start-up, Diapers.com, which was eventually sold to Amazon for $540 million.
Notwithstanding all the choices facing graduates, Bharara said he hoped they stayed on the legal path, “because there are so many people yet to serve. There are so many causes yet to champion. There is so much justice yet to achieve…. You will have opportunities to improve your community and country that others can only dream of.”
An idealistic lawyer, he said, “can not only achieve the American dream, but open up that dream to other people also—to the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the discriminated-against…. There is no one in a better position than you to make a difference. There is no one better situated to preserve liberty, promote equality, and prevent cruelty than the person who is genuinely dedicated to becoming both a master and a servant of the law.”
Dean of Students Annik Hirshen presented several honor awards to graduates, including: the Thelen Marrin Prize for Academic Achievement to Shira Tevah and for Law Journal Writing to John Pyun; the Student Service Award to Sinha; and the Jamison Prize for Scholarship and Advocacy to Bevan Dowd.
After the ceremony, the champagne flowed freely, as the law school community celebrated the next generation of global lawyers.
2015 Public Interest Awards
On the eve of commencement, the law school held its annual pro bono awards ceremony honoring those who showed an uncompromising commitment to public service. A number of students and staff members won special recognition:
Cristina Najarro ’15 and Reetu Mody ’15 received the Francine Diaz Memorial Award, given to a graduating woman of color who has shown commitment to social justice through her work experience, involvement with social justice organizations, course selections, and career plans;
Clinical Instructor Marc Janowitz and Richard Weir ’16 received the Eleanor Swift Award for Public Service, presented to members of the law school community who have performed outstanding work to strengthen Berkeley Law’s commitment to public service; and
Attorneys Yaman Salahi and Kim Thuy-Seelinger won the Kathi Pugh Award for Exceptional Mentorship, which recognizes the outstanding efforts of attorney-mentors with the pro bono Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects.