Stanford Law School Celebrates the Graduating Class of 2020

2020 Class Logs Record-breaking 21,937 Pro Bono Hours 

On June 14, 2020, 261 graduating Stanford Law School (SLS) students celebrated their accomplishments and each other virtually via video and chat rooms, with the promise to come together to cheer each other in person at a later date. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Stanford University’s in-person commencement and diploma celebrations have been postponed but graduates were able to celebrate online with faculty, staff, friends and family.

Celebrating together, apart

Immediately after Stanford University’s livestreamed event that included more than 14,000 participants, SLS students joined the law school’s online celebration which included pre-recorded videos, a slide show and the opportunity to join faculty and fellow graduates via several live chat rooms. During the online event, SLS graduates and their family and friends moved from chat room to chat room, virtually visiting with favorite professors, staff and each other to celebrate this major milestone and share SLS memories and words of encouragement and support. Students also shared their law school experiences and congratulated each other via social media and submitted photos. 

“The world needs your talent, energy, and perspectives”

Addressing the current health pandemic and the country’s recent grappling with continuing racial inequities, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and SLS Dean, Jenny Martinez, as well as many other SLS faculty, reminded this year’s graduating class that they have an opportunity and obligation to use their education and training to change the world for the better. Faculty shared their thoughts and congratulations with the graduating class via video: 

Dean Jenny Martiez
Jenny Martinez, Dean; Richard E. Lang Professor of Law

“From the issues laid bare by the pandemic to the renewed conversation on racial justice that the recent killings of George Floyd and others have opened, there are so many areas in which systemic reform is needed. Whether you go to work in the public or private sector, we know you have the capacity to make important contributions for the betterment of society in the coming years.” – Dean Jenny Martinez

Mark G. Kelman
Mark Kelman, Vice Dean; James C. Gaither Professor of Law

“When I think about the class of 2020, I think of people who not only have the kind of empathy to care about change, but who have gained the kind of wisdom and practical skills to effectuate the sorts of changes that really work. So, that’s my hope for you on this graduation day. That whatever you go on to do, you will use the skills that you’ve learned while you were here to lead to efficacious change both in any situation in which you’re dealing with as a lawyer, and in your new role as public citizens.” – Vice Dean Mark Kelman

Faculty Publications 40
Jayashri Srikantiah, Associate Dean of Clinical Education; Director of the Mills Legal Clinic; Professor of Law; Director, Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

“You’re graduating into a very difficult world, one marked by a pandemic that has laid bare racial and other inequality in our society, marked by closed borders and xenophobia, by a degraded environment, by the erosion of democratic principles around the world, and by a long-overdue broader recognition of the racism that permeates our institutions…It is a time to mourn but it is also time to fight. We need your brilliance, your fearlessness, your collaborative spirit, your fierce advocacy, your creativity. I have had the good fortune to get to know some of you very well and that is what gives me peace and hope in these very trying times. I know that you are exactly what we need right now. With you in the driver’s seat, we can navigate our way forward to a better, more equal, more just place. This is not just about being good lawyers, although you will certainly be that. This is about much more. It’s about commitment, character, and a strong moral compass. These and other qualities are things that you, the class of 2020, have in abundance.” – Jayashri Srikantiah

Shirin Sinnar 1
Shirin Sinnar, Professor of Law; John A. Wilson Faculty Scholar

“Around the world people are suffering, autocrats are rising, borders are closing and the police are still shooting. Yet, when I think about what gives me hope I return to you as I recite in my mind members of your class whom I’ve had the pleasure to know, hope returns. It’s not your legal degrees that give me hope, it’s your commitment to justice and your compassion for other human beings. If you, too, are searching for hope in a time of darkness and uncertainty, search no further. Turn to your classmates. Turn to yourselves. You are the hope you’re searching for. Let that sustain you through the struggles ahead.” – Shirin Sinnar

Ronald C. Tyler 1
Ronald C. Tyler, Professor of Law; Director, Criminal Defense Clinic

“Welcome everything. Push away nothing. Be open to what’s happening, the easy and the difficult parts of life. We spend too much time in denial. Denial is at the heart of the problems we’re facing right now. Denial of climate change, denial of the global pandemic, denial of systemic racism and its existence in the DNA of this country. Welcome everything just as it is, discover, investigate, and respond skillfully.

Bring your whole self. It’s not your expertise that matters the most, actually. It’s your wisdom, the wisdom that you gain through acceptance of everything about yourself. That’s what enables us to truly help others.” – Ronald Tyler (Borrowed from Frank Ostaseski’s “The Five Invitations”)

Other faculty who recorded messages for the graduating class include: Phil Malone, Colleen Honigsberg, Diego Zambrano, Greg Ablavsky, Bob Weisberg, Anne Joseph O’Connell, Rabia Belt and Rob Daines. View the video here.

SLS grads honored for giving back

During their time at SLS, students volunteer for public service projects and use their burgeoning legal skills to help communities in need and serve the public interest. These volunteer hours, called “pro bono,” short for the Latin phrase pro bono publico which means “for the public good,” are typically acknowledged during the SLS in-person graduation celebration. Celebrated earlier in June, the 2020 SLS Pro Bono Distinctions clearly highlighted that the 2020 graduating class have already taken their responsibility to assist those in need to heart, with a record number of students (131) [and faculty (43)] who achieved Pro Bono Distinction this year, setting a new standard for commitment to serving low-income communities and other public interest causes. The class has distinguished itself by performing 21,937 hours of pro bono service during their time at the law school, equating to 2,742 days or more than 10 years of one attorney’s full-time work. 

One example of the graduates’ focus on giving back, the Stanford COVID Pro Bono Project–started just two months ago–enlisted more than 200 SLS students who logged more that 450 hours working on the project. And, the project has pulled in more than 600 law students from other law schools, including Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia and NYU.

2020 Awards

  • Pauline Ryan, JD ’20, was chosen for the 2020 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service to Stanford Law School. The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service recognizes a graduating student who has made distinctive and exceptional contributions to legal education or the quality of student life at Stanford Law School. Dean’s award recipients are chosen collectively by their peers and the law school faculty and staff for active and sustained efforts that both enrich the law school community and reflect the principles and standards of excellence of Stanford Law School.
  • The 2020 Staff Appreciation Award will be presented to Susan Robinson, Associate Dean for Career Services. The Staff Award is chosen by the graduating students and given to the staff person, administrator, or faculty member who has played an integral role in their lives.
  • The 2020 John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching will be presented to Anne Joseph O’Connell, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law. As the Hurlbut Award recipient, O’Connell will give a speech at the in-person ceremony.