Thousands of guests, family members, and loved ones joined Fordham Law School’s graduating Class of 2023 for the Law School’s 116th Diploma Ceremony. Held May 22 at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus, the entire Law School community gathered at the ceremony to celebrate the achievements of the graduates. Guests included this year’s distinguished speaker Hon. Jeh C. Johnson, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Fordham University President Tania Tetlow.
Of the 630 students who graduated at the ceremony, 413 received J.D. degrees, 102 received M.S.L. degrees, 112 received LL.M. degrees, and three received S.J.D. degrees.
In his address, Dean Matthew Diller reflected on the resilience of the graduates, whose law school experiences were marked by the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students enrolled in the evening division began their studies in person before having to pivot to online learning in the spring of 2020. Graduates from the full-time J.D. program began their first semester of law school behind laptop screens to attend remote classes and sitting six feet apart while wearing masks while attending select in-person classes during the 2020-2021 academic year. Nevertheless, they made up for lost time when all classes, gatherings, and events returned in person last year.
“I am in awe of all of you,” said Dean Diller to the graduates, “for your perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity, your community spirit and willingness to aid your peers, your academic excellence and brilliant analysis. Your class has left a defining mark on our Law School, and, for that, I applaud you.”
Legal Life Lessons
At the ceremony, Johnson received an honorary doctorate of laws from the Law School, conferred by the Board of Trustees of Fordham University in recognition of “his commitment to public service and public safety, and to building a more just, equitable society.” After leaving the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, Johnson rejoined the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where, in 1993, he was the first Black person elected to partner in the firm’s 118-year history. In 2020, at the request of New York State’s chief judge, he led a comprehensive review of racial bias in the state’s court system and issued a detailed report on how to address the problems.
In his remarks, Johnson welcomed the graduates to what he believes to be “the most consequential profession in our nation,” and shared a few “legal life lessons,” including the importance of carrying out the Law School’s motto, “In the service of others,” and the need to be a zealous advocate of clients’ interests.
“A smart lawyer is not necessarily a great lawyer,” said Johnson. “A smart lawyer can identify all the legal issues embedded in the law school exam; a great lawyer can spot all the issues in the exam and then go on to sort out which of those issues present risks that are tolerable or intolerable for the client. … A great lawyer does not just find problems; the great lawyer solves problems and helps the client solve problems.”
What It Means to be a “Fordham Lawyer”
Tania Tetlow—the first layperson, the first woman, and the first attorney to lead Fordham University in its 181-year history—joined the day’s festivities for her first Fordham Law diploma ceremony.
In her message to the graduates, President Tetlow urged them to remember the gift of discernment when searching for the right answers to difficult questions as well as to find the courage to do what is right, even when it may seem intimidating.
“The point is not to be fearless; it is to navigate your fears and not let fear be the source of excuses and rationalizations for doing the wrong thing,” said President Tetlow. “Graduates, you will go out and show the world what it means to be a Fordham lawyer … to be a person who lives for others [and is]open and curious, bold and brave, [and]doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.”
Senator Schumer, the senior U.S. senator from New York and current Senate majority leader, also made an appearance at the ceremony, sharing words of wisdom with the crowd.
“You’re about to cast off into the unknown,” said Senator Schumer. “I know it can sometimes seem a little scary, but you’ve got amazingly great assets and education at the great Fordham School of Law. Garner up your courage and your strength, put aside your doubts, [and]take a chance. If you do, it is my hope, my prayer, and indeed my confidence that you will find true success and true joy in life.”
Graduates and Faculty Recognized for Outstanding Accomplishments
After the speakers’ remarks, Professor Clare Huntington announced the recipients of more than a dozen student awards that recognized the graduates’ academic achievements, public service, and competition victories.
The conferrals of three annual faculty awards were shared online the week prior to the diploma ceremony. They include the Dean’s Medal of Recognition to Professor Helen Hadjiyannakis Bender, the Teacher of the Year Award to Professor Howard M. Erichson, and the Adjunct Teacher of the Year Award to Professor James Jalil.
Will Lanier ’23, this year’s Student Bar Association President and OUTLaws President, received the Eugene J. Keefe Award at the ceremony. Referencing popular song titles from Taylor Swift’s discography throughout his remarks, he encouraged his fellow graduates to be “fearless” and engage with the world, to “speak now” and voice their beliefs, and to take action so that they may become catalysts for change.
“Together, we will change the world because we are not just graduates of Fordham Law School; we are the bearers of its legacy,” said Lanier. “We carry with us the values and principles it has instilled in us, the lessons we have learned within its walls, and the friendships we have formed. You are leaving Fordham Law now as students, but you must forever uphold its motto, ‘In the service of others.’”
Reactions from the Fordham Law Community
A great day for very special law graduates!!!! https://t.co/Wsu5dRJUfg
— Jerry Goldfeder (@JerryGoldfeder) May 23, 2023
Congratulations to the graduating class of 2023! 🥳🎊 Go forth & Be the Change you want to see! @FordhamLawNYC #RamFam for Life pic.twitter.com/moH4xlcOGi
— Gisybaby (@Gisy_baby) May 22, 2023
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