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.”
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.