UCLA School of Law hosted a virtual commencement ceremony on May 15, celebrating the Class of 2020 with an inspiring array of speeches and tributes, including a keynote address by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the law school moved its commencement ceremony online, streaming the program for graduates and their families, friends, teachers and classmates. A traditional in-person celebration is being planned.
The Class of 2020 included 315 juris doctor (J.D.) graduates, 212 master of law (LL.M.) recipients and two people who earned a doctor of juridical science (S.J.D.) degree.
Holder commended the graduates on their accomplishments in law school, even as they become lawyers at a time of great uncertainty. He highlighted the contributions of young lawyers, including framers of the Constitution, at critical times in the nation’s history.
“Your responsibility as graduates of one of the finest law schools in this nation is to overcome the circumstances thrown at you and use your formidable skills to make better the nation that you will now be called upon to serve and, ultimately, to lead,” he said. “Do not bemoan your fate. Ask instead how you can improve the lives of those who are suffering through this health and economic emergency. Ask how you can help to address longstanding issues of inequality, injustice and unfairness that this pandemic has helped to make even more apparent.”
The Class of 2020’s J.D. graduates included roughly equal numbers of men and women, ranging in age from 22 to 42. Approximately 28% identified as Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Native American or Pacific Islander, and 18% were first-generation college students. About 7% of the J.D. graduates already held another advanced degree.
The LL.M. graduates, many of whom were already accomplished legal professionals before they came to UCLA Law to pursue their legal master’s degree, hailed from 33 countries, were 61% female and ranged in age from 20 to 56. They included four Fulbright Scholars, two judges and a judge advocate general in the U.S. Army.
Chilean S.J.D. recipient Ricardo Lillo worked under the supervision of professor and Criminal Justice Program faculty director Máximo Langer to produce a dissertation on due process in non-criminal cases. Chinese S.J.D. recipient Qin Xia worked under the supervision of professor and Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy faculty director James Park on a dissertation about securities regulation in the United States and China.
UCLA Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin served as host of the festivities, which streamed from the school’s Hugh and Hazel Darling Law Library. The program featured live and recorded remarks from more than a dozen students, faculty members, leading alumni and friends of the school, including social justice pioneer Antonia Hernández ’74, film executive Stacey Snider ’85, UCLA Law Board of Advisors Chair Alicia Miñana ’87 and comedian Jay Leno.
“I hope you can face this intimidating moment with confidence — confidence that challenging moments like these are precisely what you’ve been training for here at the law school,” Mnookin said. “There aren’t easy answers to our current predicament, that’s true. But lawyers face thorny problems every day, tough situations without quick fixes or simple solutions. And in those moments, you’ve got the resources to handle this. … I’ve seen firsthand your empathy, your passion, your desire and ability to make a difference. I’ve seen your fortitude and your ability to problem solve and to lead.”
J.D. class president Sara Williams, who was a key member of the team that organized the ceremony, touched on the generosity that she saw from her classmates and said that they are “well-suited for the task of building a more just, equitable and compassionate society. … Even now, in the midst of a global health crisis, you think not of yourselves but of others.”
Taylor de Laveaga spoke for the J.D. graduates. “I hope you don’t have any regrets,” she said to her classmates, “and that the things you do regret are not the times you try and fail, but the times that you fail to take risks, fail to be brave, fail to be kind.”
Adwoa Ankoma spoke for the LL.M. graduates, noting that she and her classmates came from nearly three-dozen countries and found a home in UCLA Law’s diverse community. “You can communicate all you want to someone, but if you don’t allow different ideas into your way of thinking, it is useless,” she said. “Real comprehension has to do with having an open mind.”
Professor of the Year honoree LaToya Baldwin Clark shared in the graduates’ pride. “Today marks the occasion where you add ‘lawyer’ to your identities,” she said. “But ‘lawyer’ is not the sum-total of who you are. … Walk into every room, with all of your identities — lawyer, artist, organizer, parent — and use the tools you’ve learned over these past three years to strengthen those identities, create new ones, and chase the dreams you have for yourself, your families, your communities and the things and people you care about.”