Lexington, VA • Monday, May 14, 2007
The Washington and Lee University School of Law celebrated its 152nd commencement on Saturday, May 12 as 124 J.D. degrees and four LL.M degrees were awarded. The graduates will begin their legal careers in 26 different states and one foreign country, Bosnia-Herzogovina. 18 graduates will go on to judicial clerkships, and 56 percent of employed graduates will work for law firms.
Graduation festivities began Friday evening on the Lewis Hall lawn with the annual awards ceremony and presentation of walking sticks, followed by music and fireworks co-sponsored by the School of Law and the Alumni Association. A list of students receiving special honors at this ceremony can be found below.
The commencement ceremony began at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday with an opening invocation by William J. O'Brien, Law Class of 2007, who earned a divinity degree at Yale University prior to coming to W&L to attend law school. After the official welcome from President Ken Ruscio, Acting Dean Brian Murchison addressed the graduating class and the candidates were awarded their degrees.
This year's commencement address was delivered by John Grisham, lawyer turned best-selling author. Grisham first reflected on his own law school graduation, remembering how his commencement speaker pondered whether the collection of young lawyers was truly needed in the overcrowded profession.
Grisham believes the question is still valid today, and that the answer is a resounding "Yes". Recounting the suffering and need he has witnessed around the country while researching his novels or engaged in philanthropy, Grisham urged graduates to get involved with pro bono organizations such as the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing.
"Until you use your license and your brains and your enthusiasm and your youthfulness to reach out, to reach down and to help someone less fortunate, you won't realize the power the law has to protect people," said Grisham.
Afterwards, third year class officers Allison Langston and Rebecca Safford presented Grisham with his very own walking stick, traditionally given to third year law students at the awards ceremony preceding graduation. The walking stick, or cane, originated in the 1920's as a way to distinguish third year law students on campus. At that time, only two years of law school were required, and the walking stick served as a way to reward and honor those students who stayed for a third year.
Special honors at Friday's awards ceremony went to the following students:
- Erin Laurel Pearson was awarded the John W. Davis Prize for Law, given to the student with the highest cumulative grade point average. Pearson graduated summa cum laude and was also elected to Order of the Coif.
- Stephen Christopher Mullins and Aaron Allen Wilson shared in the Academic Progress Award for the most satisfactory scholastic progress in the final year.
- Sarah Marie Floyd won the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Award for effective trial advocacy.
- Garren Robert Laymon won the Roy L. Steinheimer, Jr. Commercial Law Award for excellence in commercial law.
- James Donald Humphries IV won the Calhoun Bond University Service Award for significant contributions to the University community.
- Wilson Douglas Sweitzer won the Frederic L. Kirgis, Jr., International Law Award for excellence in international law.
- Stephanie Diane Yost won the National Association of Women Lawyers Award, given to an outstanding woman law student.
- Adam Clark Hull and James Donald Humphries IV won the Charles V. Laughlin Award for outstanding contributions to the moot court program.
- Yousri Hanai Omar won the Randall P. Bezanson Award for outstanding contributions to diversity in the life of the Law School community.
- Michelle Martin Beatty won the Virginia Bar Family Law Section Award for excellence in the area of family law.
- Abby Wilhelmina Clifton and Donald MacKaye Houser won the American Bankruptcy Institute Medal for excellence in the study of bankruptcy law.
- Brandon David Almond, Dawn Michele Davison, and Rory Thomas Gray won the Barry Sullivan Constitutional Law Award for excellence in constitutional law.
- Jonathan Andrew Golub won the James W. H. Stewart Tax Law Award for excellence in tax law.
- Andrew Michael Howard won the Thomas Carl Damewood Evidence Award for excellence in the area of evidence.
- Joshua Bryan James Nettinga won the A. H. McLeod-Ross Malone Advocacy Award for distinction in oral advocacy.
- Adam Clark Hull was awarded the Student Bar Association President Award for services as the President of the Student Bar Association.