Hundreds of alumni, faculty, staff and students gathered at the UConn School of Law on Monday to celebrate a century of progress since the law school’s first class was held in rented rooms in downtown Hartford.
“That small night school for insurance workers who desired a legal education has grown into a preeminent law school that has been committed to protecting the rule of law and advancing justice in local, national and global communities,” Dean Eboni S. Nelson said. “Being of service and expanding access to justice have been goals of UConn Law since its founding and that important work continues today.”
The Founders’ Day event kicked off a year-long celebration of the law school’s centennial and honored its founders, George and Caroline Lillard. In addition to Nelson, speakers included Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, UConn President Andrew Agwunobi, Provost Carl Lejuez, Trustee Marilda Gandara JD ’78, Assistant Dean Karen DeMeola JD ’96 and Tara Trifon JD ’09, president of the University of Connecticut Law School Alumni Association.
The event was held on the campus quadrangle and featured food trucks and cupcakes, as well as heaters to ward off the October chill. Several speakers remarked on the law school’s expanding commitment to access and diversity in the 100 years since its founding as the Hartford College of Law and the 73 years since it became part of the University of Connecticut.
Bysiewicz, whose mother Shirley Raissi Bysiewicz was the first woman to become a tenured faculty member at the UConn School of Law, praised the pioneering alumni who broke barriers and served their communities. “UConn Law grads have had a huge impact on upholding the integrity of our democracy,” she said.
Agwunobi also noted pioneering faculty, including John Brittain, the first Black tenured professor. “It took about 50 years for the first permanent, tenure-track Black faculty member to be hired at UConn Law,” Agwunobi said. “And here we are today with Dean Nelson, who is the first permanent Black female dean of the UConn School of Law.”
“In 100 years, at the bicentennial, people will look back on this and say ‘Wow, they didn’t realize the best was yet to come,’” he said.
Founders’ Day was the inaugural event of the centennial observance. Other events will include a conversation with past deans, a golf tournament and a final celebration that is scheduled for June 11, 2022.