Photo By: Rick Kopstein
Last week, over 300 alumni came together at the Manhattan Center in New York City for the annual Law School Alumni Association Luncheon. As they mixed and mingled with friends, faculty members, and administrators, guests bid on silent auction items, raising funds to support the Public Interest Center’s programs and initiatives.
Welcoming the attendees, Dean Michael A. Simons noted that the event marked the start of the Law School’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote. “Ninety-five years after St. John’s Law opened its doors and welcomed 30 women in our first entering class, we are now, for the first time in our history, a majority-female law school, with a majority-female student body, and a majority-female faculty,” he said.
View event photo gallery
All of the women of St. John’s Law, who will be celebrated throughout the coming year, helped to make their alma mater the success it is today, Dean Simons continued, highlighting a current bar passage rate of nearly 90%, an employment rate of 92%, and graduate success across the profession. “And so it’s appropriate, today, that our three honorees are all women, and that we are welcoming two more women into the Belson Circle,” he said.
The afternoon’s first honoree was Ashley Kloepfer ’11, who received the Recent Graduate Service Award in recognition of her outstanding service to the Law School. Over the last decade, Kloepfer has advocated for marginalized New Yorkers as an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), which Lisa Schreibersdorf ’84 established over 20 years ago and grew into one of the largest public defender offices in the country.
Rising through the ranks at BDS to her current role as supervising attorney in charge of training, Kloepfer has kept close ties with St. John’s Law. Whether talking to students about public interest work, serving on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, or being honored with the Women’s Law Society’s Public Interest Alumna Award, she makes giving back a priority. “I’m proud to be a public defender,” she told the luncheon crowd. “I‘m proud to be a graduate of St. Johns School of Law. And I feel a strong sense of honor to serve our students and graduates as they navigate the legal profession.”
That same dedication to the Law School is characteristic of the six alumni that Dean Simons introduced on stage as this year’s Belson Medal recipients:
Anne D. Alexander ’76C, ’80L
Vincent C. Alexander ’75
Willa I. Lewis ’78
Edward Moulin ’80
Francis J. Scahill ’84
Douglas G. Vetter ’88C, ’91L
Named for Maxine ’98HON and Jerome Belson ’48, ’80HON, the honor goes to individuals who have demonstrated a special loyalty and dedication to St. John’s Law, respect for the University mission, and whose philanthropy has had a significant impact upon the advancement of legal education at the Law School. “More precisely,” Dean Simons explained, “the award is given to individuals whose lifetime giving to the Law School has reached the Belson Circle level, which is $100,000.”
The celebration of dedicated alumni continued as Hon. Mary Kay Vyskocil ‘83, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, accepted the Law School’s John J. Murphy Award for her distinguished service to the public, the profession, and the Rule of Law.
“Over the years, we have presented this award to an impressive array of alumni, including Judges Dearie, Sprizzo, Bellacosa, Ciparick, and Seybert; Professors Alexander, Siegel, and Andy Simons; and practitioners Roy Reardon, Steve Gartner, and Jack Clarke,” Dean Simons said as he added Judge Vyskocil to the roster. While her career has taken her from courtroom acclaim as a commercial litigator to public service on two different federal benches, Judge Vyskocil has been a tireless and generous supporter of St. John’s Law. She has served as president of the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors and of its Manhattan Chapter, and she is currently on the Advisory Board for the Center for Law and Religion.
Taking the podium, Judge Vyskocil paid tribute to Dean Murphy and his wife, Ann, and acknowledged their sons, who were at the luncheon. She also shared that it was a particular honor to receive an award from the Law School and its Alumni Association. “In my view, whatever success I have been privileged to enjoy in my professional life is attributable to the quality education I received at St. John's and the impressive fellowship of the SJU Law family,” she said.
To close the program, Dean Simons welcomed St. John’s George F. Keenan Professor of Law Margaret V. (Peggy) Turano '77 to the stage to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. Presented to an individual who exemplifies a true Vincentian spirit, service to others, commitment to the Rule of Law, and generosity, dedication, and loyalty to alma mater, the award has only three past recipients: Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa '61, '87HON, Joseph M. Mattone, Sr. '53C, '55L, '94 HON, and Professor Emeritus Vincent C. Alexander '75.
Describing Professor Turano’s impact on the Law School, Dean Simons traced her achievements from star student on the Moot Court and St. John’s Law Review, through her four decades as a beloved classroom educator, to her work by his side in the Dean’s Office and as advisor to the Latin American Law Students Association, and into the Writing Center she founded at the Law School. Professor Turano accomplished all this, and more, he noted, while authoring commentaries and a treatise that made her a go-to expert on New York Trusts & Estates Law.
Professor Turano, who will retire at the end of this academic year, thanked her friends and colleagues for the honor and shared that she “sensed goodness” when she first came to St. John’s Law. Over the years, that impression never changed as she witnessed many acts of kindness and consideration. “Goodness always abounded at St. John’s,” she said, adding that, especially now, lawyers are called to carry that goodness forward: “We’re lawyers; we need to hold the center together, to be steadfast about recognizing goodness, nurturing it, and celebrating it. We are meant to sweeten the universe with our utter conviction of its goodness.”
Looking ahead, Professor Turano told the attendees, “The script of my lifetime achievement award sounds as though my work through the years was hard. No! I liked spending this part of my life with you . . . I could measure my success by your success. You’ve been a big part of my life’s purpose.” That purpose has always included her wonderful family, who Professor Turano acknowledged before concluding with, “Now I’m going to retire and forge into the rest of my wild and precious life. In the words of the poet Hafiz, I’m going to ‘pick up my life again, and let whatever is out there/ come charging in.’”
But the celebration of Professor Turano didn’t end there. After the Alumni Association Luncheon ended, the festivities moved to nearby Connolly's Pub & Restaurant, where her colleagues, friends, students, and family gathered for a “Peggy Palooza” in her honor.