Stanford Law Community Comes Together to Mark the Beginning of the New Academic Year

On September 20, Stanford Law School (SLS) held its third annual convocation ceremony on Canfield Courtyard. In chairs spread across the sunny lawn and in the cool shade of the surrounding and towering redwoods, students, faculty, staff and alumni came together to commemorate the start of a new academic year in a poignant and inspiring event after an unprecedented year and a half of online study and outdoor, socially-distant classes. The significance of the occasion was acknowledged in many of the remarks given by peers and colleagues alike.

An invocation was given by Dr. Amina Darwish, Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper and Rev. Dr. Colleen Hallagan Preuninger from the Office for Religious & Spiritual Life. Following the invocation, an alumni address was given by award-winning journalist Ailsa Chang, JD ’01 (BA ’98), host of NPR’s All Things Considered. Student remarks were followed by the dean’s address and a benediction by Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert, Dean for Religious & Spiritual Life. The ceremony closed with a performance of Hail, Stanford, Hail! by Leah Kennedy, JD ‘22, accompanied on the piano by Jonathan Breit, JD ‘22.

Stanford Law Community Comes Together to Mark the Beginning of the New Academic Year

“Being a lawyer is so much more than practicing law”

During her address, SLS alum, Ailsa Chang, described the possibilities and multitude of career choices that are possible with a degree from Stanford Law. She walked the audience through her unique career path from Stanford Law student to law firm lawyer to her sharp turn toward journalism and her years at NPR. Chang shared her journey to remind students that “practicing law…is a profession that seeks to hold power accountable and seeks to expose injustice,” highlighting how those values are critical in law and in journalism. 

“The education you are going to be set up with at this law school… is not going to confine you in a box, it is not going to constrain who you can be, it will not limit the possibilities that will spill forth when you leave this place,” said Chang. “But, it is up to you to open your eyes to all the things that a top flight legal education will make available to you. It is up to you to be creative and curious as to what you can do with a law degree.”

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“We can create a community of which we are all proud”

The two co-presidents of the Stanford Law Association (SLA), Julia Gleason, JD ’23, and Caroline Wyatt, JD ‘23, addressed the gathered group of SLS students, faculty and staff in a joint speech acknowledging the difficult past 18 months experienced by the entire community.

“I ran for SLS co-president because of a sense of disenfranchisement that I felt last year from not only a global pandemic, but an intense election cycle that culminated in a capital riot,” said Gleason. “As law students, we felt the effect of those challenges uniquely and are still grappling with them today.” 

The two co-presidents went on to describe how grateful they were for their caring, compassionate classmates who helped them get through the last year and a half and pledged to work together with their fellow classmates to continue to extend that care and compassion to the full community. 

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“In the midst of a hellish year, I met a shining light in the form of Deborah Rhode”

Representing the advanced degree students at SLS, Gloria Paidamoyo Chikaonda, JSD ’23, JSM ’20, echoed the other speeches about the difficult past 18 months but also shared her inspiring experience with a class on lawyers and leadership taught last year by Professor Deborah Rhode, a leading expert on legal ethics, who recently passed away.

“In the class with Professor Rhode, we asked questions about the deep ethical dilemmas we will be faced with as legal practitioners,” said Chikaonda. “Professor Rhode reminded me that developing a good character is just as crucial a part of a legal education as any other skill we would learn here. During this time of increased uncertainty, where issues around race, class and gender threaten our world….as Deborah Rhode would have urged us, remember to not just be good lawyers but be good leaders and above all, be good people.”

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“Stanford Law students are here not just to become competent lawyers but leaders in the profession and in society”

During her address, Dean Jenny Martinez acknowledged how challenging the last 18 months have been, both at the law school and across the world, and how many of these challenges continue to impact and change society. She spoke of the vital role that lawyers play in ensuring societies and legal systems adequately respond to these challenges and that lawyers can’t do this work alone.

“These challenges can only be adequately addressed by lawyers working with those clients out in the world who are affected by these laws and policies, centering the voice of those clients, and working with those from other disciplines,” said Dean Martinez. “Places like Stanford Law School have a profoundly important role to play in bringing together expertise from across disciplines to create and disseminate evidence-based knowledge and to train the next generation to help society grapple with these problems.”

Dean Martinez closed her address with a personal note of hope. “When I think about all the passion and excitement that our students bring and the knowledge, wisdom and experience of our faculty and staff, I know we have so much to contribute to the world.”