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Law School Celebrates Commencement 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

On Sunday, June 4, 2017, 215 J.D. and 57 LL.M. candidates joined family, friends, faculty, and alumni to celebrate the Law School’s Commencement Exercises at Carnesecca Arena on St. John’s Queens campus.

“The law school you are graduating from today is stronger and better then when you arrived, with rising student credentials, rising employment rates, and rising alumni support,” Dean Michael A. Simons said in welcoming the graduates and their 3000 guests. He then acknowledged the steadfast support of the University leadership, loyal St. John’s Law alumni, and dedicated Law School faculty—including the day’s co-faculty marshals, Professors Jane E. Scott and David L. Gregory, the grand marshal, Vice Dean Emeritus Andrew J. Simons '65, and the faculty speaker, Professor Vincent C. Alexander '75, who are all retiring from the Law School’s full-time faculty.

As students of these and the other esteemed faculty members, Dean Simons noted, the Class of 2017 read thousands of cases, sat through hundreds of classes, wrote countless papers and outlines, and took dozens of exams. They also animated St. John’s Vincentian mission by devoting over 50,000 hours to pro bono and public service work. Along the way, Dean Simons said, they became lawyers who are ready to seize the “opportunity to do good” and to “use the power of the profession to achieve justice.”

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Dean Simons then introduced Professor Alexander, a two-time recipient of the University’s prestigious Faculty Achievement Medal. Citing the French saying plus cą change, plus c’est la mème chose, or the more things change, the more they stay the same, Professor Alexander shared two qualities of the St. John’s Law student body that have remained constant throughout his 40 years on the faculty: empowerment and esprit de corps.  

“The Class of 1977 was empowered, and so are you, with a deep knowledge and appreciation of the law,” he said, adding, “As men and women of St. John’s Law School, you’ve displayed a [common] spirit of commitment that will continue, as it has at St. John’s from the beginning, to serve the needs of others.”

That same commitment to serving the public good is a hallmark of the career of Hon. Janet DiFiore '81, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York, who, after taking the stage to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws, addressed the celebrants as this year’s commencement speaker. 

“You have earned the right to be enormously proud of what you’ve accomplished,” she told the graduates as they “embark on the noblest of professions with so much promise.” Looking back on the journey that has taken her from St. John’s Law to Westchester County District Attorney to the leadership of a court system that serves some 20 million New Yorkers, Judge DiFiore expressed gratitude for the “first rate legal education” she received as she was “mentored and inspired by legendary professors” and learned what it means to be a “competent and ethical professional.”

As the graduates take the next steps in their professional journey, Judge DiFiore encouraged them to heed the words of President John F. Kennedy, as inspired by Luke 12:48: “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” Service lies at the heart of the legal profession, she observed, and enables lawyers to be “part of something that is bigger than yourself.” Judge DiFiore concluded her remarks by stating, “Live the values taught, practiced, and celebrated at our Law School . . . Pursue justice for all—those who can afford it, and those who cannot.”

The candidates then came on stage for the traditional hooding ceremony and conferral of their degrees. Several were recognized for achieving top honors in their graduating class:

Alexandra Struzzieri '17 received the Joseph Kerzner award for achieving the highest cumulative grade point average in the J.D. program.

Michael Farinacci '17 earned the Esterina Giuliani Award for the highest cumulative grade point average in the Evening Division.

Andrew Butler '17LL.M., Spyridon Arsenis '17LL.M., and Juan Yu '17LL.M. received awards for earning the highest cumulative grade point average in the Bankruptcy, International Sports Law practice, and Transnational Legal Practice LL.M. programs, respectively. And Ioana Miller '17LL.M.  and Vitaliia Yurchak '17LL.M. tied for top honors in the U.S. Legal Studies LL.M. program.

Reflecting on the milestone occasion she shared with her family and classmates, Olivia Cheung '11C, '17L said: “I’m very grateful for the opportunities that St. John’s Law has given me, and for the relationships I’ve cultivated here. It was inspiring to hear Judge DiFiore affirm that St. John’s has trained our hearts as well as our minds. And I will carry her call to do meaningful and impactful work with me as I continue along my professional path.”   

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