North­eastern University’s School of Law cel­e­brated its com­mence­ment Friday after­noon at Matthews Arena, as speakers urged more than 200 stu­dents receiving law degrees to use their pro­fes­sional careers to pursue social jus­tice and make pos­i­tive change in their com­mu­ni­ties and throughout the world.

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun presided over the com­mence­ment exer­cises. Before offering his charge to grad­u­ates, Aoun hon­ored Emily Spieler, who is step­ping down as the School of Law’s dean after serving in the role since Sep­tember 2002.

Aoun said when Spieler arrived at North­eastern, she embraced and for­ti­fied the law school’s two pil­lars: expe­ri­en­tial learning and an unwa­vering com­mit­ment to social jus­tice. Under her lead­er­ship, Aoun said, Spieler has increased these oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents around the globe. “Your work will have a lasting impres­sion on this school, the legal pro­fes­sion and this uni­ver­sity for gen­er­a­tions to come,” he said.

Aoun then chal­lenged grad­u­ates to follow in Spieler’s foot­steps as leaders in their pro­fes­sion, armed with an expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion in which they tested theory with prac­tice and brought that expe­ri­ence back to class­room to inform curriculum.

No matter what aspect of law you pursue, your skills and intel­lec­tual mus­cles will be with you for a life­time,” he added. “At North­eastern, you were taught to think, how to learn con­tin­u­ously and how to be engaged. Use these tal­ents to advance jus­tice in every realm of human endeavor. Follow the example of your dean, and leave your com­mu­ni­ties better than how you found them.”

  • More than 200 graduates received their degrees during the School of Law commencement ceremony held Friday in Matthews Arena. Photos by Dominick Reuter.

In her own remarks, Spieler noted the strong legacy the Class of 2012 will leave through its many accom­plish­ments — from seeking jus­tice in cold cases through the Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice Project, to engaging in co-​​op expe­ri­ences in 17 coun­tries on five continents.

You’re poised to be both great lawyers and great leaders,” said Spieler.

Jacque­line A. Berrien, chair of the U.S. Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, deliv­ered the com­mence­ment address to grad­u­ates and received an hon­orary Doctor of Laws degree. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama nom­i­nated Berrien to the posi­tion in July 2009, char­ac­ter­izing her career as “fighting to give voice to under­rep­re­sented com­mu­ni­ties and pro­tect our most basic rights.”

Berrien urged grad­u­ates to pre­pare for the detours, diver­sions and doubts that all lawyers face early in their careers, and pointed out that these chal­lenges will make them stronger and lead to their most mem­o­rable and rewarding moments — as she expe­ri­enced in her own career.

The sooner you get past that, the more you will be able to learn and the more fear­lessly you’ll be able walk in the world and go on to pursue every dream you have today and in future,” Berrien said.

Berrien said that grad­u­ates should never lose sight of the oppor­tu­nity to serve others in their careers, noting the legacy left by those who fought for civil rights in America.

Your pro­fes­sion should be proud of its con­tri­bu­tions. The road to freedom is now a highway because lawyers throughout the land yes­terday and today helped to elim­i­nate the obstruc­tions and cleared the road­blocks by their self­less, coura­geous espousal of dif­fi­cult and unpop­ular causes,” she said.

For every noted hero, there are hun­dreds who have laid humbly and anony­mously in the vine­yard of freedom. I do not know if your career will make head­lines, or if you will be on the side­lines making a dif­fer­ence. Either way, the most impor­tant thing is that you are making a difference.”

As is tra­di­tion, law grad­u­ates selected two class­mates to deliver the stu­dent address. Tim­othy Cronin said that over the last three years, his class­mates have taught him the meaning of being a good lawyer by striving to “improve humanity through the prac­tice of law” — noting efforts from defending domestic-​​violence vic­tims, to helping finan­cial insti­tu­tions nav­i­gate the finan­cial crisis.

Deena Sharuk recalled her child­hood dream to help others one day by becoming a doctor, police­woman or fire­fighter. Now, she is deter­mined to pursue that charge as a lawyer, a pledge she said is common among her class­mates. “The world today undoubt­edly faces a host of prob­lems, like inequality, dis­crim­i­na­tion and dis­en­fran­chise­ment. But by helping others through advo­cacy and sup­port, you can on the micro level solve indi­vidual injus­tices and on the macro level con­tribute to a safer, more stable world.”

The Class of 2012 also selected law pro­fessor James R. Hackney Jr. to deliver the fac­ulty address. Hackney reminded stu­dents that Northeastern’s School of Law has trained them to under­take not only the prac­tice of law, but also the prac­tice of life — par­tic­u­larly through the real-​​world work expe­ri­ences they encounter on co-​​op.

Thank you for your con­tri­bu­tions, to our com­mu­nity and beyond during your time with us. I look for­ward to watching as you journey into a future filled with what I’m sure will be won­derful accom­plish­ments,” Hackney said.