Hon. Rowan Wilson, New York’s Chief Judge, to Speak at St. John’s Law Commencement

New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rowan Wilson.
January 11, 2024

Hon. Rowan Wilson, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York, will be the Law School’s commencement speaker and honoree on Monday, May 20, 2024. The commencement exercises will take place on St. John’s Queens campus.

After serving as Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals for six years, Judge Wilson became Chief Judge in April 2023, making him the first Black judge to lead the Court in its 176-year history. In this pivotal role, he is responsible for New York’s Unified Court System, which operates over 47,000 square miles with 16,000 employees, millions of residents and visitors, and a $3 billion budget.

When she nominated him last year, Governor Kathy Hochul said, "Judge Wilson's sterling record of upholding justice and fairness makes him well-suited to lead the court at this critical time.” Joining Judge Wilson at his investiture ceremony, she shared: “He has demonstrated through his years already on this court the intellect, the understanding, the ability to write in such a powerful way and to really make decisions that matter.”

Judge Wilson’s service as Chief Judge marks another milestone in a stellar legal career. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Hon. James R. Browning, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He then joined Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP as an associate and, handling a range of corporate and pro bono matters, soon rose to become the firm’s first Black partner. 

Outside the office, Judge Wilson dedicated his time and talents as Trustee for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and for the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. He also served his New York City community as the longtime Chairman of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

“Judge Wilson’s trailblazing career—as a practicing lawyer, public servant, judge, and now court system leader—is a model for our graduates, and I’m thrilled that he will address them at commencement” says Dean Michael A. Simons, who will be stepping down in June after 15 years leading the Law School. “The 2024 Commencement will be my last official act as dean, and I can’t think of a more fitting honoree than Chief Judge Wilson to help mark the occasion.” 

Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum, who will become the Law School’s 10th dean on June 1, looks forward to attending the commencement exercises and shares: “The 2024 commencement will be a truly memorable occasion. In addition to celebrating the achievements of the graduates, we’ll have the opportunity to congratulate Dean Simons for his successful tenure as dean. Joining the St. John’s Law community for commencement is made even more special by the opportunity to honor Chief Judge Wilson, an advocate and jurist whose career, advice, and insights have inspired me and so many others."