It was a special, and an especially moving, homecoming. Even Mother Nature seemed to know it. Gray clouds that had lingered all day gave way to evening blue skies and sunshine as members of the Law School’s Class of 2020, in red regalia and black tams, processed down St. John’s Great Lawn and took their seats for a long-awaited, in-person commencement ceremony on Monday, July 19, 2021.
Welcoming the celebrants, Dean Michael A. Simons shared that, when the graduates started at St. John’s Law in 2017, no one could have imagined the challenges they would face as 3Ls navigating an unprecedented pandemic year. They displayed incredible resilience as they attended class from a distance, graduated virtually in June 2020, took the bar exam online, and started their careers remotely.
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As they studied and persevered through adversity and uncertainty, Dean Simons noted, the Class of 2020 learned that the law is power that they, as lawyers, can harness to do justice and serve the greater good. Concluding his remarks, he encouraged the graduates to move forward with a strong sense of purpose rooted in the knowledge that a legal career, like life, is all about connecting with, and helping, people.
The Class of 2020’s unique path to the profession was also the focus of remarks from the evening’s faculty speaker, Associate Dean for Experiential & Skills-Based Education and Professor of Legal Writing Rachel H. Smith. Drawing a vivid analogy to the 1989 Oakland A’s—whose sweeping World Series victory was overshadowed by the intervening and decimating Loma Prieta earthquake—she recognized that the graduates had a tremendous achievement overshadowed by unpredictable and unexpected events completely out of their control.
But, just as the shadow soon lifted to reveal an Oakland A’s team beloved for “the strangeness of the ‘89 series,” the Class of 2020 already has an extraordinary legacy. “During this pandemic we have all been at the mercy of events, but I can’t think of a group of students I have ever known who were better equipped to handle it,” Professor Smith said, adding: “You have come through an extraordinarily difficult and interesting time and you have made the most of it in so many ways. The timing of your careers, like the ‘89 A’s, is in the end a strange kind of blessing and a mark of how special and unique you are.”
To close her remarks, Professor Smith offered her former students one more writing lesson on the value of one-syllable words and short sentences. Echoing the sentiments of family, friends, and professors looking on, she said, “I would like to end tonight with a short sentence made up of just six one-syllable words that is the truest statement of how I feel right now: We are so proud of you.”