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St. John’s Law Celebrates Commencement 2016

Christina Nguyen ‘12CPS, ‘16L
Monday, June 6, 2016

When Christina Nguyen ‘12CPS, ‘16L strode across the commencement stage at Carnesecca Arena on Sunday and became a St. John’s Law graduate, it was a milestone first for her and her family.

The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants and a Queens Native, Nguyen was a Legal Studies major and Business minor at St. John’s University when she decided that she wanted to be a lawyer. After earning her B.S. magna cum laude, she chose to attend St. John’s Law because of its strong alumni network, close ties to the New York legal community, and family-like environment.

“It’s a family that I’m proud to be a part of,” Nguyen says. She shared that pride over her three years at the Law School as an editor of the Commercial Division Online Report, as director of external competitions for the Dispute Resolution Society, on dispute resolution and appellate advocacy competition teams, and as an active member of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, among other activities.

Recognizing Nguyen’s work ethic and contributions as a law student, the Queens County Catholic Lawyers Guild and the NAPABA Law Foundation awarded her scholarships. She also received the Flushing Lawyers Scholarship. “This recognition and support meant a lot to me and my family,” says Nguyen, who is the first person in her family to go to graduate school. “My family is very proud of my accomplishments, my goals, and my involvement in the legal community.”

Joining 244 fellow J.D. candidates and 46 LL.M. candidates for the commencement exercises, Nguyen looked forward to starting her career in the corporate and securities industry, to continuing her volunteer work with local bar associations, and to being part of the “vast, loyal, and very supportive” alumni network that—as Dean Michael A. Simons shared in his commencement remarks—has been a pillar of the Law School for 90 years.

View 2016 Commencement Photo Gallery

Giving back is part of the fabric of St. John’s Law, Dean Simons noted. While reading thousands of cases, sitting through hundreds of classes, writing countless papers and outlines, and taking dozens of exams, Nguyen and the other members of the Class of 2016 still devoted over 78,000 hours of their own time to pro bono and public service work, embodying the commitment to justice that’s at the heart of St. John’s Vincentian mission.

That same commitment to justice is a hallmark of the career of the Honorable Randall T. Eng '72, who, after taking the stage to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws, addressed Nguyen, her family, and all 3000 celebrants in the stands as this year’s commencement speaker. 

With an appointment from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2012, Justice Eng became the first Asian American ever to serve as presiding justice of an Appellate Division in New York State. Indeed, throughout his storied legal career, he has opened doors by being the first Asian American in almost every position he has held. 

With great pride in alma mater, Justice Eng told the commencement crowd: “Forty four years ago, I was seated where you are now on this happy occasion. My parents were there then, and I’m happy to say that they’re here now. I am indeed blessed.” Noting that the “great diversity” that he saw looking out at the graduates didn’t exist in the legal profession that he first entered, Justice Eng recounted how he broke through barriers to fulfill his childhood dream.

There were the lawyers who frequented his parents shop when he was a boy and cautioned that there weren’t any opportunities for Asian American trial lawyers in New York. Undeterred, Justice Eng enrolled in St. John’s Law, which “has always met its mission for anyone who has come through its doors.” Through the years, as he earned a succession of leadership roles off and on the bench, St. John’s alumni were there to guide and to champion him.

While there are still barriers to take down in the legal profession, Justice Eng said that the day will come when “we no longer have to pause and recognize any firsts. That day is on the horizon, and I look forward to seeing it with you.” With a call for the graduates to conduct themselves as “men and women of integrity,” Justice Eng concluded his remarks by stating, “Your success in the law is limited only by your imagination.”

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

Andrew Esposito received the Joseph Kerzner award for achieving the highest cumulative grade point average in the graduating J.D. class

Jacob Pang received the Esterina Giuliani Award for the highest cumulative grade point average in the Evening Division.

Raffaele Ferraioli, Lolia Tom-George, Xintong Zhang, and Iuliia Belyshkina received awards for earning the highest cumulative grade point average in the Bankruptcy, International Sports Law practice, Transnational Legal practice, and U.S. Legal Studies LL.M. programs, respectively.

Reflecting on this milestone event, Christina Nguyen says: “Justice Eng’s story was very relatable, especially since, like him, I’m first generation Asian American and the first in my family to become a lawyer. I appreciate his reminder to not let barriers stop me. He sets a wonderful example for me to follow as I transition from law student to practitioner.”