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: