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St. John’s Law Celebrates Commencement 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On Sunday, June 1, 2014, the Law School’s 257 J.D. candidates and 54 LL.M. candidates convened at Carnesecca Arena for Commencement Exercises. Associate Academic Dean and Professor of Legal Writing Larry Cunningham served as Director of Proceedings for the ceremony that included some 3000 family, friends, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni in the St. John’s Law community.

The ceremony opened with a stirring invocation delivered by Hon. Joseph F. Bianco, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York. In addition to his full-time public service on the bench, Judge Bianco is an adjunct professor at the Law School and a deacon of the Catholic Church.

Dean Michael A. Simons then welcomed the graduates and their guests, noting that as they transition into their professional lives, the members of the Class of 2014 can be very proud of the over 60.000 hours of pro bono work they volunteered, collectively, to assist their community’s poor and marginalized through the Law School’s clinics and service initiatives—selfless service embodying St. John’s Vincentian mission. “The lawyer has what the ordinary citizen does not,” he said, referring to the lawyer’s authority, and obligation, to speak for those who otherwise would not have a voice in the legal system.

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Dean Simons also shared that, as they make their path to the profession and to a rewarding career, the graduates will have the opportunity to harness the “St. John’s spirit” they cultivated over their three or four years at the Law School—a unique amalgam of “smarts, training, and grit.” That spirit will animate them as they rise to the challenge and opportunity to use their law degree as a license to do good and to serve justice. “If you meet that challenge and take that opportunity,” he said, “you will have made for yourself not just a career, but a life of which you can be truly proud.”

With this call to build a meaningful life in the law, Dean Simons introduced the 2014 commencement speaker, Elisa D. Garcia C. ‘85, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Office Depot, Inc. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens and Long Island, Ms. Garcia was raised to believe in the value of education and set ambitious goals for herself. The first in her family to attend college, she received a joint BA/MS in Political Science and Management and Policy Sciences from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.  A lifelong interest in politics and her own political aspirations took Ms. Garcia to St. John’s Law, where her interests turned to corporate and securities law and where she met her classmate and future husband, John Hasluck '85.

Following law school, she began her career as a corporate associate at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, a firm with deep St. John’s roots. She was named Office Depot’s General Counsel in 2007 after holding key legal advisory and managerial positions at leading international corporations, including Domino’s Pizza, Inc. and Philip Morris International. In her current role, she manages legal, regulatory, compliance, loss prevention, and government affairs matters for the company worldwide. Recently, she led the team that secured the FTC’s unconditional approval of Office Depot’s merger with OfficeMax. Following the merger, she was named Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of the combined company.

Today, Ms. Garcia augments her work at the vanguard of corporate America with volunteer service. A champion of diversity in the workplace and an architect of innovation in legal services, she is on the boards of the American Arbitration Association, the Association of Corporate Counsel, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, and the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, and is an advisory board member for the Corporate Pro Bono Institute. She recently received the St. John’s Latin American Law Students Association’s (LALSA) inaugural LALSA Alumna/us of the Year Award at a reception at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City.

Addressing the graduates, Ms. Garcia noted that much has changed since she walked the halls of St. John’s Law. Today, over 30 percent of the Law School’s incoming class identifies as minority. What has not changed, she said, is St. John’s proud tradition of training so many New Yorkers who are the first in their families to enter the legal profession. No matter which path they choose—or which path chooses them—in the law, Ms. Garcia encouraged the graduates to stand behind a “firm set of values” from the start and to “act with courage and integrity.” She also emphasized the importance of building a support network of peers and of seeing the “bigger picture” of opportunities available to them.

Ms. Garcia closed her remarks by calling on the graduates to “be adventurous” and by sharing inspiration she found in the final installment of the acclaimed Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Looking out on a freshly fallen snow, Hobbes exclaims, “The world looks brand- new!” to which Calvin replies, “A day full of possibilities … let’s go exploring!”

“Ms. Garcia’s encouragement to embrace what is in front of us and to jump right in was a great message to hear on this day of transition and celebration,” said Rebecca Lowry ’14. Edda Santiago ’14, LALSA’s outgoing president, also praised Ms. Garcia. “Having a Latina share her personal story of struggle and success was very inspiring,” she said. “I was moved to tears when she talked about the strides St. John’s Law has made in building a diverse student body. It was wonderful to start my life as a St. John’s Law alumna on such an uplifting note.”

As the graduates came on stage for the traditional hooding ceremony and conferral of their degrees, several were recognized for achieving top honors:

Alison Megan Boyle ’14 received the Joseph Kerzner prize for achieving the highest cumulative grade point average in the graduating J.D. class

Rebecca Lowry received the Esterina Giuliani Award for the highest cumulative grade point average in the Evening Division.

Nasser Alshehri, Alexandra Jessica Beierlein, Devin Burke Hahn, and James Michael Mungavin received awards for earning the highest cumulative grade point average in the Transnational Legal practice, U.S. Legal Studies, Bankruptcy, and International and Comparative Sports Law LL.M. programs, respectively.

Recognizing the invaluable support the graduates received from their families over the years, Alumni Association President Nicholas M. Cannella ’75 closed the ceremony by welcoming the Class of 2014 to the strong, diverse, and close-knit St. John’s Law alumni family, stating: “We hope you join us, since we trust you will benefit from doing so. Because, even now, you cannot do it alone —and neither can those who will follow you in subsequent graduating classes.”