Student Bar Association President Josh Cockream Urges Class of 2024, “Let’s Be a Role Model to the World”


In May, President Joe Biden proclaimed June 2024 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) Pride Month to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of the LGBTQI+ community.

Fordham Law School celebrates Pride Month and its LGBTQIA+ community who continues to champion inclusivity and pave the way for the next generation of legal professionals.

Josh Cockream ’24, the 2023-24 Student Bar Association president, gave a stirring and personal speech that reflected on his experience growing up as a LGBTQ youth, at Fordham Law’s 117th Diploma Ceremony on May 20.

As he reflected on his childhood, he urged his 682 classmates to be a “role model to the world,” challenging them to not water down their beliefs as they enter the legal profession, but to start dialogue from a position of openness and fairness.

The text of his address appears below:

Good morning. My name is Josh Cockream. And I have had the absolute pleasure and privilege of serving as your Student Bar Association president this academic year. And I’m even prouder to be graduating alongside each of you. We’ve earned this one y’all; give yourselves a hand. Now, I’ve got to be honest, it took me quite a long time to decide what I wanted to say to you all today. For, I know, I am no smarter than anyone here. So who am I to impart any kind of wisdom on to you? But I quickly realized that what I want to say isn’t a piece of advice, but rather a call to action. It doesn’t need explaining that we are living in difficult times. The world of today sees democracy being tested at home and abroad. Social media using 10-second sound bites to further divide us. And even our bar prep materials pin us against each other in the BARBRI vs. Themis debate. But in all seriousness, oftentimes, it seems like these divisions are between large groups of people painted with broad strokes, a monolith incapable of nuance or change. But what I want to ask is this: what would happen if we came to the table, assumptions placed aside, in the hopes of finding common ground? What if we rejected the idea that one belief or choice necessarily dictates another? What would happen if we opened our minds, but more importantly, opened our hearts to the nuances that make us each human? I think people might surprise us.

For my friends and colleagues in the audience today, many of you know me as an outspoken gay man who’s passionate about Broadway and classical music, and loves a good gym selfie. But I wasn’t always this way. Like many LGBTQ youth in the south, I had a difficult time accepting who I was. One day in middle school, I recall another student asking me to look at my nails. A simple request, but one laced with an insidious purpose. According to him, if I looked at my nails in one way, it meant that I was straight. If I looked at them in another way, it meant that I was gay. Well, apparently, I made the very gay choice. Go figure. These little games seem silly now, but they shape our outlook on life and our insecurities starting at a young age. A few years later, I knew I wanted to come out to my parents, especially to the men in my family, whom I looked up to so much, but it just didn’t seem possible. You see, my family has a strong line of careers in law enforcement and the armed forces, both rather conservative professions. My father dedicated 28 years to public service in law enforcement, and his father, my papa, just over 20 years. The LGBTQ community wasn’t something we discussed or even acknowledged, and frankly, I didn’t see a place for it in a family of police officers and military veterans. In my teens, I had come to learn of the tensions and sometimes violence that exists between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community. The Stonewall Riots here in our very own New York City are a prime example of that. At age 23, I finally made the choice to come out to my family. I am thankful my parents immediately accepted me. And, much to my surprise, when I told my papa, he basically said, ‘Yes, and?’—way before Ariana Grande sang those words. And then a part of me immediately felt so silly, for it dawned on me just how I had let one aspect of my dad and papa—their chosen profession—dictate to me how they’d respond to a totally different aspect of my person.

I soon learned, in fact, my dad and papa were allies in the LGBTQ fight long before I ever came along. I learned my father had a childhood friend named Kevin. He went to school with Kevin for years and came over to play and my papa would cook dinner for the boys. While this doesn’t sound like much today, keep in mind, this was 1980s rural Florida. Then it was in high school that my dad received the tragic news that his dear friend Kevin had died of complications with HIV/AIDS. My dad shared with me his friendship with Kevin and his commitment to see an end to the AIDS epidemic that was plaguing the gay community. How was it that my dad and papa, two men in the conservative profession of law enforcement, were all of a sudden becoming two of my fiercest allies in the fight? To my own detriment I let one central fact about them dictate to me how they’d respond to a separate aspect of me. I thought the space between us was too vast to cross. My papa, Enrique Regalado, passed away days before our first law school class. Today, I realized just how much time I wasted—how I could have had a strong ally by my side for longer, how much happier I could have been as a child and young adult if only I had been able to see that people are capable of being more than one thing. I tell you all this story to emphasize why we must begin seeing each other for the complex, seemingly contradicted humans we are. It is far too easy in today’s world to know a single fact about someone and to think we see it all, to see their stance on one topic and assume there’s an ocean between the two of you on a different topic. But those assumptions fail us. They prevent us from coming to the table for an earnest open-minded conversation.

Now we’re all soon-to-be lawyers, and I know how we’re programmed. We’re already crafting rebuttals even before opening arguments are made. And we’re trained to do that—be the first to have the answer, be the first to have the legal authority, be the first to know how to weasel out of that damn Apple user agreement no one reads. We all know, ok. But this isn’t always right. This isn’t the full picture. It’s at least not the full picture of what could be. What could be is this: telling our sharp minds to act quickly, but not to shout, because the heart also has something important to say. I believe that leading with our hearts can help illuminate the whole individual. It is only through compassion and empathy that we can recognize another’s full person, recognize that they are capable of nuanced views—even views that seem contradictory at times. I believe coming to this realization has the immediate effect of making us better lawyers by keeping an open mind to what a client might be telling us or even what opposing counsel is suggesting during negotiations. But here’s the real kicker: I am hopeful that it creates a better world for us.

Now, it is important for me to say this is not a call to water down our beliefs. But it is a call to challenge ourselves to start a dialogue from a fair position, a position of openness. Allowing heart and compassion to enter the conversation allows us to come to the table with an open mind and willingness to understand each other. Maybe, just maybe, we will come to learn that leaving room for another to speak their position before we assume it will actually bridge the gap immensely.

I know this message may come across as overly optimistic, perhaps even naive, but I know it’s possible. And how do I know? Because I see it in all of you, my classmates. For the past three years, I’ve witnessed open conversation on the toughest of issues, usually following our class on constitutional law, where we ask questions of one another that come from an earnest, heartfelt place. This is the power of learning and action, sure. But this is also the power of open mindedness and empathy in action. You, my fellow classmates, give me hope that this message isn’t overly optimistic. With thoughtful, kind, and empathetic lawyers like us, I believe this world can become a better place. Suffice it to say, the young Josh living in rural Florida, scared to come out to his family because of false assumptions and an unwillingness to take a chance, would have looked up to us. That young boy still lives out there somewhere and he needs a role model who demonstrates that difficult conversations are possible, people are capable of being more than one thing, and that when we lead with an open heart people, I tell you what, beautiful things happen. Let’s be his role model. Let’s be a role model to the world.

Class of 2024, congratulations. We did it. Thank you.


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