Inter­na­tion­ally known pro bono attorney Stephen Oleskey advised the grad­u­ates of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity School of Law to use the law to create needed change.

Speaking at the law school com­mence­ment cer­e­mony in the Cabot Center on Friday, Oleskey said, “You will find the next decade a time that will present you with great ful­fill­ment in law. It will be a time to tap into the world of law and work to change what you feel must be changed.”

Oleskey, a senior partner at the Boston law firm Wilmer­Hale and co-​​lead counsel on a habeas corpus suit chal­lenging the impris­on­ment of six Alge­rians at Guan­tá­namo Bay, described the five-​​year effort, which ulti­mately involved nine part­ners con­tributing an esti­mated $20 mil­lion worth of legal work, as one of his most ful­filling expe­ri­ences as an attorney.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court announced its deci­sion in Oleskey’s case, Boume­diene v. Bush, ruling that the detainees are enti­tled to the right of habeas corpus. On May 15, the lead peti­tioner in the case was released from Guan­tá­namo after spending nearly seven-​​and-​​a-​​half years in detainment.

Oleskey has spent the past 40 years engaged in public-​​service legal work. A former Mass­a­chu­setts deputy attorney gen­eral and past chief of the state’s Public Pro­tec­tion Bureau, he is now a member of WilmerHale’s com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion prac­tice group.

He said he feels a spe­cial affinity for North­eastern law school and its com­mit­ment to human rights law, noting that his late father-​​in-​​law grad­u­ated from the law school.

Law school dean Emily Spieler described Oleskey as an ele­gant, effec­tive and fear­less lit­i­gator. Pres­i­dent Joseph Aoun pre­sented him with an hon­orary Doctor of Laws degree.

The impor­tance of pro bono work was also the theme of the fac­ulty address by law pro­fessor and former law school dean David Hall.

Among the values Hall said he shares with the grad­u­ates are that lawyers are more than “hired guns” and that pro bono work is a cher­ished, sacred ideal. He urged stu­dents to hang onto the beliefs and ideals they learned here. “North­eastern has given you a plat­form with which you can change the world,” Hall said.

Hall, who has spent 24 years at North­eastern, became the first African-​​American dean of the law school in 1993. Five years later, he was named provost of the uni­ver­sity, a posi­tion he held until 2003.

As he pre­pares to leave North­eastern to become pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of the Virgin Islands, the address was espe­cially poignant for him, he said.

We may never visit it again, but the insights and values we have gained at North­eastern Law will always be with us,” Hall said. “Now it’s a part of your DNA and mine as well.”

Hall also encour­aged the grad­u­ates to face the trou­bled economy head-​​on. “It is not the struggle in our lives that breaks us,” he said. “It is the life where there is no meaning that breaks us.”

In her remarks to stu­dents, Spieler struck an opti­mistic note.

Despite the chal­lenges of the world, this is a time for us to cel­e­brate the impor­tant moment in your lives. As new lawyers, we train in an impor­tant pro­fes­sion,” she said. “Never, ever be afraid to speak truth to power.”

Pres­i­dent Aoun wrapped up the cer­e­mony by urging the grad­u­ates to con­stantly chal­lenge their own thinking. “Ques­tion your cer­tainty,” said Aoun. “Use your legal training to chal­lenge your own assump­tions. Never assume that you have all of the answers.”