The UConn Law Class of 2022 graduated Sunday under brightening skies as the commencement ceremony returned to campus for the first time since 2019. Many of the JD graduates who were rejoicing in their achievement had spent nearly half their time in law school studying remotely.
Joel Motley, the featured speaker, reminded graduates of other challenges they will face. He told them that before she became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge, his mother, Judge Constance Baker Motley, represented the first Black student to attend the University of Mississippi. When her client, James Meredith, enrolled in 1962 after a two-year legal battle, it took 15,000 federal troops to ensure his safety.
“To make sure that the authority of the federal government, the authority of the federal courts would be honored — that’s what it took,” Motley said. “So you’ve got great times ahead, but remember that some of the things you’ll be dealing with will be very, very demanding; very, very difficult; very, very unpredictable.”
The graduate list included 156 JD students and 51 students who earned LLM degrees. They included the law school’s first graduate in the new Governance, Risk Management and Compliance LLM program and 10 graduates who studied in Korea to earn LLMs in U.S. Law in a joint program with Hallym University of Graduate Studies in Seoul.
The audience nearly filled the 1,000 seats under the tent on the law school campus, and more than 600 additional people watched via live streaming. Interim University President Radenka Maric conferred the degrees with four members of the Board of Trustees in attendance: Chair Daniel Toscano, Vice Chair Andrea Dennis-LaVigne, Sanford Cloud Jr. and Thomas D. Ritter ’77.
Dean Eboni S. Nelson began her remarks by asking for a moment of silence to remember Professor Richard Parker, a member of the faculty for 26 years who passed away in October. She applauded the students for their service to the law school, the legal profession and the community through clinics, student organizations and pro bono work.
“As a class, you’ve managed to do all of this during a global pandemic at a time of racial reckoning, while working full or part time, taking care of children and loved ones, and supporting each other every step of the way,” she said.
“These accomplishments and acts of service demonstrate your commitment to being part of a profession that, at its core, is about serving others in the pursuit of justice. And with the challenges facing our country and our world today, the legal profession needs you now more than ever.”
Speaking on behalf of the LLM graduates, Marie Lenz of Germany, described the camaraderie among students from 19 nations as they studied and socialized together. “Today, all of us are richer,” she said. “We are richer in experiences, we are richer in our knowledge about diverse cultures and definitely richer in how to finish an assignment overnight.”
Morgen Barroso, representing JD students in the Day Division, opened with a series of humorous apologies, including one to her boyfriend, “because you’re never going to win an argument again” and one to her parents “for becoming so boring.”
Taylor DiChello, representing JD students in the Evening Division, saluted her classmates for completing their degrees while working full-time and caring for families. “To the parents, spouses, friends and children, thank you for your support today and for the last four years of late nights, early mornings and final exams,” she said.
It was the 99th commencement of the UConn School of Law since its founding as the Hartford College of Law in 1921 and occurred during the law school’s year-long celebration of its centennial marking 100 years of progress, excellence and impact. The law school will continue the celebration of its centennial year with a gala on June 11.