On May 20, 2019, Fordham Law School held its 112th diploma ceremony at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus.
Dean Matthew Diller and President Fr. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., conferred degrees on 564 graduates, awarding 386 J.D. degrees, 154 LL.M. degrees, 16 M.S.L. degrees, and 8 S.J.D. degrees.
In his welcome remarks, Dean Diller reminded the graduates of the gravity of their chosen profession, noting that they would be entering the workforce at a particularly challenging time, when the responsibility that lawyers bear is at its greatest. He referred in particular to the Korematsu v. United States case, which was reenacted at the law school earlier in the academic year, noting that today, as during the horror of Japanese internment during World War II, we face many critical issues stemming from racism and xenophobia. Lawyers will be called upon to make difficult—even painful—decisions necessary to salvage the fabric of our nation’s democracy. “People will depend on you—they will trust you,” he said. “Decide from day one that you will be the kind of Fordham lawyer who deserves this responsibility and earns this trust.”
Father McShane echoed Diller’s sentiments, noting that this year’s graduating class is particularly historic, having entered law school in 2016. The election and its aftermath shaped this class of students, regardless of their party affiliations, McShane said, telling the graduates he would be “willing to bet that it caused you to pursue your studies with a greater sense of purpose.”
Fordham Law’s graduating class of 2019 has truly committed itself to service—as a group, the students have performed over 152,000 hours of public service during their law school tenure. This theme permeated the speakers’ remarks throughout the ceremony.
“Strive to be better,” urged Tanyell S. Cooke, president of the Student Bar Association, in her poignant and entertaining speech. “Better means that you are in a state of continued growth, a state of continued learning, a state of continuous evolution.” She also emphasized the importance of working as a community to support one another, not only among the law school community, but globally.
Professor Ted Neustadt ’79 was honored with the Eugene J. Keefe award for service to Fordham Law School. He is the associate director of Legal Writing at Fordham, a subject he has been teaching since 1986, as well as a writing consultant for several New York law firms. Neustadt noted that at the end of the day, he is a teacher, and he owes his gratitude for the award to his students. He said that he loves his work, but that it took him several careers to find a calling that he loved, and he wished the graduates luck in finding their own vocations. Upon receiving the award, Neustadt—who also works as an actor—joked, “I guess I’m never going to win that Tony, but I am almost embarrassed to admit—and a little surprised to realize—that this means more to me.”
The Adjunct Teacher of the Year award was given to Jerry H. Goldfeder (an honor he received previously in 2015). In addition to teaching election law at Fordham and the University of Pennsylvania, Goldfeder is special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP as well as a published author and columnist. In his speech to the graduating students, he noted, “It is not partisan to acknowledge that the state of our nation is fraught, that the rule of law is being compromised.” He advised graduates to take risks in their careers and their personal lives, and exhorted that they do all they could to “save the republic.”
“Get outside yourself,” urged Tanya K. Hernández, Fordham’s Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law, “Try to help people wherever you find yourself in whatever way you can.” Hernández was awarded Teacher of the Year and serves as the associate director and head of Global and Comparative Law Programs and Initiatives at Fordham Law’s Center on Race, Law, and Justice. She is also a Fulbright Scholar whose area of interest focuses on the study of comparative race relations and anti-discrimination law, and her work has been published in several books, numerous law reviews, and news outlets like The New York Times.
Judge Pamela K. Chen gave a touching and humorous graduation address rife with references to Mean Girls to serve as mnemonic devices for the wisdom she imparted. Why Mean Girls? Joking aside, Chen noted that many of the movie’s messages were deeply relevant to the occasion and “spoke to the challenges that all the graduates face as they embark on their careers in the law.” The movie’s emphasis on female empowerment was especially salient, as Fordham just celebrated the centennial of opening its doors to female students, and this year’s graduating class was 58 percent women. Another important theme from the movie, Chen said, was empathy, a vital quality to maintain in what she called “today’s polarized times, when people often come to fast and inflexible judgments without ever engaging with someone who has a different view.” At the very least, empathy gives us the ability to “learn to disagree well,” an essential ability for any good lawyer.
Chen was confirmed in 2013 to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, making her the first openly gay Asian American to serve as an Article III federal or district court judge. During her career, she has spearheaded the Eastern District of New York’s anti-trafficking program, as well as presided over many important court cases, including the corruption case against FIFA soccer officials. For these and her other many accomplishments working to protect the most vulnerable members of society, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Fordham University.
After such a moving convocation ceremony with so many remarks that doubled as calls to action, how can this year’s graduates keep a level head while carving out a meaningful legal career? They would do well to heed Professor Hernández’s advice: “Just keep taking the next right step, one step at a time.”