Graduates from more than 20 countries have received their degrees from the University of Connecticut’s School of Law, where civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis from Georgia’s 5th district urged them to use law to lift society to a higher plane.
The Law School’s commencement Sunday drew more than 2,000 people to its Hartford campus, where 240 students received Juris Doctor degrees or Master of Laws degrees in insurance law or U.S. legal studies.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Lewis, saying the 13-term Georgia congressman represents living history and epitomizes the word “icon.”
Lewis has been involved in the civil rights movement since his teenage years. He led the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., for voting rights; was a peer and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and was a keynote speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Lewis, whose activism has been marked by nonviolent resistance, says his mother warned him when he was young to avoid trouble – but that he hopes the law students, like himself and others, will recognize their responsibility to get into what he calls “good trouble, necessary trouble, important trouble.”
“Take a deep breath and take it all in,” he told the graduates, “but tomorrow you must roll up your sleeves because the world is waiting for talented young men and women to lead it to a better place.”
The students are dispersing to jobs and homes around the world, including many who have secured jobs in Connecticut. Joshua Hershman of Woodbridge, who received his J.D. degree, is joining his father, Peter Hershman ’72 (LAW), in his New Haven legal practice and considering becoming a public defender if a position becomes available.
Joshua Hershman was among many new graduates who received their ceremonial “hooding” during the commencement from their parents or other relatives who are UConn School of Law alumni.
“It’s an exciting day for all of us. It feels like it’s been a long time in coming,” he said,
adjusting his robe and posing for pictures in the Law School’s quadrangle during pre-commencement preparations.
Dean Jeremy Paul praised the graduates and cited their many accomplishments, including real-world experience through UConn’s in-house legal clinics to help refugees gain asylum, guide inventors in securing patents, and ensure clients receive fair trials.
“I think the audience can see why your faculty and fellow alums have nothing but confidence in your future,” Paul told the graduates, noting they join a list of graduates that includes two of the state’s five U.S. representatives, three Connecticut Supreme Court justices, and two federal U.S. District Court judges.
“Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma may lead our Huskies to victories on the court,” Paul said, referring to UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball team coaches, “but we are just as proud here on Elizabeth Street of the victories UConn lawyers win in court, at the bargaining table, in politics, and in every sector where dedicated professionals tend to gather.”