Gala Event Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion at St. John’s Law
The elegant Tribeca Rooftop, with its expansive views of lower Manhattan, provided a fitting backdrop for the Law School’s first Diversity & Inclusion Gala on April 4, 2017. Some 230 alumni, students, faculty, administrators, and guests came together to celebrate an unwavering commitment at the heart of the founding and living mission of St. John’s Law.
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When the Law School opened its doors in 1925, it quickly earned a reputation for welcoming men and women of diverse economic, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. St. John’s student newspaper, The Torch, described that first class as the most “democratic” in New York City, containing “every nationality, creed, cult, age and section of the city.”
Addressing the Gala attendees, Dean Michael A. Simons said: “I often talk about how strong St. John’s Law is—with our rising rankings, top employment rates, increasing fundraising, and so on. Tonight, though, we celebrate something less quantifiable, but equally important: our diversity.”
It’s a proud legacy, he continued, of providing opportunity to students—many of them children of immigrants—who had been excluded from other law schools. St. John’s first class had 30 women. By the next year, it welcomed its first African-American student and its first Hispanic student. A few years after that, it graduated the first Asian-American lawyer in all of New York State.
Through the decades, as alma mater continued to open doors to opportunity, St. John’s Law alumni not only diversified the legal profession, but achieved success at the highest levels of public service, private practice, and international business. “Those alumni broke barriers and blazed trails, forging a path that is now being followed by new generations of students and graduates,” Dean Simons shared.
Contemplating these next generations at St. John’s Law, Dean of Students Kimathi Gordon-Somers asked the celebrants to reflect on the “path paved by our past and present.” Citing a South African philosophical concept called Ubuntuism, which holds I need you in order to be me . . . and you need me in order to be you, he said: “For those of us in this room, leaning on one another and working together to ensure success, this concept, this philosophy, is apt. I hope that each of you can embrace it in your lives and careers and allow it to foster your commitment to diversity and inclusion in the future.”
The evening also featured remarks from alumni, many of whom supported the Gala as Planning Committee members and event sponsors. “To me, planning an event that brought so many people together to celebrate diversity and inclusion at St. John’s Law meant being a part of the Law School's concerted efforts to engage its diverse students and alumni,” said Queenie Paniagua '12. “This event highlighted a commitment to inclusiveness, and I truly believe that our current and prospective students benefit the most when the St. John's Law family comes together, like we did at the Gala.”
EJ Thorsen '08, who also served on the Gala Planning Committee, agreed that the evening was a great success. “Our Gala was a fantastic celebration of the Law School's history and ongoing journey of welcoming women and all minorities with open arms,” she shared. “There was such a strong sense of pride, harmony, and dynamic energy. Especially being located in Queens County, which is called the ‘World's Borough’ for its diversity, we here at St. John's know and believe that when we promote and include everyone, we all become stronger.”
Echoing the sentiment, Dean Simons said: “Diversity is a core value of St. John’s Law, but not just because being diverse and inclusive is the right thing to do. It is, of course, the right thing to do: it is right to open up opportunities that have been unfairly closed, and to seek to remedy the effects of systematic unfairness. But diversity is a core value of St. John’s for a much simpler reason: our diversity makes us stronger; our diversity makes us better.”