Back in March, when New York City started to shelter in place, St. John’s Law moved 140 classes online in just three days. In just a few more days, all of its operations—career development, student services, alumni relations, and more—were fully remote. Finely and Belson Halls were eerily quiet then. But, all over New York City, across the country, and around the world, students were learning, and the mission of the Law School was continuing.
Fast forward five months, and faculty and administrators were back in the building for the start of New Student Orientation and Convocation. Many of the 246 members of the incoming J.D. Class of 2020 opted to participate in person while keeping a social distance and diligently wearing masks. Others joined virtually from near and far.
Welcoming the 1Ls, Dean Michael A. Simons asked them to look to their left and look to their right at the strangers who will become close friends, partners, and colleagues. “Together, in all your diversity,” he said, “you represent the richness that is New York City and that is the St. John’s Law family.”
Hailing from states nationwide and countries worldwide, the newest members of that family attended 120 different colleges, pursued 50 distinct majors, and went on to earn 20 graduate degrees, including one Ph.D. At least 28 of them are the first college graduates in their immediate family, and the same number are first-generation Americans. Another two dozen were born outside the United States, and 72 are bilingual. There are 71 1Ls who identify as students of color, and 14 who identify as LGBTQ.
The new classmates also bring a range of experience to their legal studies. Among them is an orthodontist, a former model, and a TV news anchor. There are bartenders and baristas, as well as teachers, CPAs, journalists, paralegals, day laborers, and small business owners. Two 1Ls worked in funeral homes, and a half a dozen have earned black belts in the martial arts. There are U.S. Army and Navy veterans, minor league and semi-pro sports players, dancers, musicians, and activists.
With excellent credentials that include a median LSAT score of 160 and a median GPA of 3.62, all in the diverse and talented incoming Class of 2020 are well-equipped to do the hard work that is a hallmark of St. John’s lawyers. It’s also vitally needed work, as Dean Simons noted in his welcome remarks.
“Your law license gives you not just the means to earn a living, but something more important: power,” he said. Invoking that power, lawyers can make a concrete difference when it comes to racial justice, the humane treatment of asylum seekers, religious liberty, LGBTQ rights, gun violence, freedom of expression, sexual harassment, and so many other pressing issues confronting society today. Whatever issues they care most about, Dean Simons told the 1Ls, St. John’s Law will help them build the knowledge and skills they need to do something about them. They will make a difference, while carrying forward St. John’s proud Vincentian mission of serving those who are less fortunate.
Before they stood to take the professionalism oath that has become a Convocation rite of passage, Dean Simons reminded the incoming students: “We’re here for you, just as you will be here for each other. That’s how a family works.” His message of community echoed a message he shared when St. John’s Law went remote in response to the public health crisis:
“It’s not the building that defines us; it’s the people—all working together to create something: lawyers that our world sorely needs.”