Graduation festivities began Friday afternoon on the Lewis Hall lawn with the annual awards ceremony and presentation of walking sticks. The John W. Davis Prize for Law, awarded to the graduate with the highest cumulative grade point average, was awarded to Micah Prieb Stoltzfus Jost of Harrisonburg, Va.
Four students graduated summa cum laude, 17 graduated magna cum laude, and 19 graduated cum laude. 14 students were named to Order of the Coif, an honorary scholastic society that encourages excellence in legal education. A list of honors and awards appears below.
In addition to achievements in the classroom, the Class of 2011 distinguished itself with its pro bono service to the law and the community. In all, the class completed 8,255 hours of service during this academic year, and 35 students were recognized for completing 100 hours or more of service. Earlier this year, law graduate Dan Goldman received the state-wide Oliver White Hill Pro Bono Service Award from the Virginia State Bar, which recognized Goldman's commitment to public service across all three years of law school.
Also receiving acknowledgement at the awards ceremony was Sabina Thaler, who won the Outstanding Clinical Student Award from the Clinical Legal Education Association. The clinical faculty at W&L votes to determine which student receives the award.
The commencement ceremony began at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday with an opening invocation by Harlan Beckley, Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion. After the official welcome from President Ken Ruscio and remarks from Interim Dean Mark Grunewald, the candidates were awarded their degrees.
Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio, who has covered the U.S. Supreme Court for the last 35 years, delivered this year's commencement address. In her remarks, Totenberg urged the graduates to find diverse lives by focusing on more than billable hours.
"I want you think about the long haul — what you can do, what you can be and what matters most," said Totenberg, whose coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court and legal affairs has won numerous awards and widespread acclaim.
"It's not a revelation that the law has become more of a business than a profession. So if you're looking for models, may I suggest that you look at some of the legal lions from a bygone era."
One of those "legal lions" who Totenberg singled out as a potential model was the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, who received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Washington and Lee.
"Lewis Powell and many other men of his generation — and they were men at that point — were lawyers who had courage, conviction and commitment," she said. "They were willing to take risks for what they believe in. Yes, they did have money and prestige, but they were willing to put both on the line."
Totenberg said that she had begun to give up on the modern legal profession until recently, when several major law firms agreed to defend the accused terrorists being held at Guantanamo. Those firms and lawyers showed a willingness to defend unpopular causes, she said, in cases that were not without risk to them. She also referenced former Bush Administration Solicitor General Paul Clement, who for similar reasons gave up his high-paying job with King and Spalding to continue to represent House Republicans in their defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.
After Totenberg's remarks, third-year class officers Richard Bruno and Kasey Oliver presented Ms. Totenberg with her very own walking stick, traditionally given to 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: