A buoyant crowd thronged the UConn School of Law campus on Sunday to cheer on graduates at the law school’s 100th commencement and hear remarks from Deborah N. Archer, president of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Class of 2023 included 156 graduates receiving Juris Doctor (JD) degrees and 62 receiving Master of Laws (LLM) degrees. Among those attending were three of 18 students graduating this year from the Executive LLM program, which is based in South Korea.
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Dean Eboni S. Nelson commended the perseverance of the graduates, many of whom started their legal studies remotely during the COVID pandemic. And she assured them that they are ready to start their careers and make a difference in the world.
“Be confident in the knowledge and abilities you have developed during your law school career and carry that confidence with you into courtrooms as advocates and judges, into the worlds of business and government as counselors and policymakers, and to the front lines of the endless and endlessly rewarding battle for a more just and equitable world,” she said.
Archer, an associate dean at the New York University School of Law and the first person of color to serve as ACLU president, urged the graduates to address the serious problems confronting society. She drew a distinction between the promise of equal opportunity in the American Dream and the unequal reality for many marginalized people.
“This gap between the American Dream and the American reality is not just an abstraction,” she said. “It is tactile. We feel it in the neighborhoods where we live, the schools our children attend. We feel it across beautiful Connecticut, a wealthy state that is also intensely segregated by race and class.”
Archer, who grew up in Windsor, Connecticut, also shared her optimism that solutions can be found. “The problems we face in this world are deep, entrenched, and complex. But there is one thing that I know for sure,” she said. “There is no problem in this world, no crisis, no injustice, that we cannot solve together.”
Seraphin Tala spoke on behalf of the JD students in the Day Division, but first paused to tell his classmates to smile as he took a photo on a disposable camera. “We started our law school journey together as strangers, staring at each other through boxes on a computer screen in our 1L classes,” he said. “We somehow made friends with these boxes on our screens, and those who were once strangers became lifelong friends.”
Ching Yu Lin, speaking on behalf of LLM graduates, said she was glad she made the journey from Taiwan to continue her legal education at UConn Law. “I’ve had the opportunity to have brilliant professors who are dedicated to helping international students succeed. I’ve made friends from all over the world who have inspired and supported me every step of the way,” she said.
James Motes, a teacher who represented JD Evening Division students, told fellow graduates that lawyers must “be more and do more” to move the profession forward. “Life is about learning,” he said. “We must embrace a theory and practice of lifelong education.”
The UConn School of Law was established in 1921 as the Hartford College of Law and held its first commencement, with six graduates, in 1924.