Stanford Law Class of 2019 Charged to Uphold the Rule of Law
On June 15, 2019, 250 graduating Stanford Law School (SLS) students made their way through the Crown building, across Arthur Cooley Courtyard, and toward Hoover Tower and a world where laws and lawyers will play an essential role in addressing national and global problems. Charged to uphold the rule of law by Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and SLS Dean, Jenny Martinez, this year’s graduating class was reminded by each speaker during the graduation ceremony how well-prepared and obligated they are to do just that.
“The rule of law is foundational to American society, and to societies around the world where people seek to live in peace and security,” said Dean Martinez.
“As lawyers, it is your duty and responsibility to uphold the rule of law, and in so doing you fulfill a crucial role in society, for the rule of law is a vital though sometimes invisible thread that is woven through the fabric of society and gives it stability and strength.”
“The world needs you, and I know you are up to the challenge.”
Already Focused on Giving Back
Identified by colored cords representing different levels of distinction, close to half of the 2019 class graduated with Pro Bono distinction including 22 students who logged more than 300 hours each doing public service and community work. During their time at SLS, the graduating class volunteered for community service projects and public interest programs — to the tune of 18,203 hours — already focusing on the benefit that law can bring to those in need.
‘There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. Nothing can stop it.’
Quoting Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones (and highlighting the fact that he is the first millennial faculty member to speak at graduation), Greg Ablavsky, SLS Associate Professor of Law and recipient of this year’s John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching, began his speech by sharing two stories about the negative and positive aspects of the law. A legal historian, Ablavsky drew on material he teaches in Property Law as well as his own family’s history.
Beginning with the story of the indigenous people who lived on Stanford land and continuing through the treatment of many different groups who owned or worked on the land over the years, Ablavsky told a story of how laws can be used to harm. “Law has long been a highly effective tool not just for facilitating power and inequality, but for justifying and masking it,” said Ablavsky. “I know this is not news to many of you: I have watched you struggle, in my classes and in your conversations, with what this means for becoming a lawyer, particularly at a moment when we’re daily bombarded with reminders that this role for law is not a thing of the past.”
As a counterpoint to his opening story, he offered one about the history of his family who were persecuted in Eastern Europe and immigrated to the U.S. “But I also want to stress that this story, like the first, is also a story about law: the marriage laws that forced governments to recognize my parents’ connection; the principles of human rights that pressured the Soviet government to allow my father to leave; the U.S. family reunification laws, now under attack, that allowed me to get to know my grandparents and my great-uncle, Lev, the one who escaped from the Nazi captivity; the education laws that funded the public schools that I attended and supported me in graduate school. The great challenge I have, my cognitive dissonance I face, is that, even as I recognize and teach all the ways that law has failed, law has worked for me.”
“We should try to make the story of law working a lot truer for a lot more people,” said Ablavsky. “The thought of you all going out into the world is what gives me hope and comfort.”
Ready to Take on the World
Guillaume Braidi, LLM ’19, one of two students selected by the graduating class to speak at graduation, focused on the value and power of diversity at SLS. “Nine months, three weeks, six days and eleven hours, that’s the exact amount of time during which we, the advanced degrees, representing 26 countries, have had the privilege of living the ‘Stanford Dream.’”
Braidi talked about how his time at SLS pushed him out of his comfort zone and helped him realize the benefit of embracing diversity of thought to visualize a better future. “With the support of my fellow students, I’ve changed. Today, more than ever, our society needs lawyers with a strong vision for leadership. And, we lawyers have a vision of what a better world could be. Because of our community, I’m ready to take on the world.”
‘Yesterday we were merely law students…’
Another student chosen by his classmates to speak at graduation, David Cornell, JD ’19, also reminded the class of 2019 of why they came to law school and what they now owe society. “We came to resist unjust laws and bad policies. To fight for those who need help fighting for themselves. To stand in the face of oppression and be champions of what we believe to be right,” said Cornell. “The challenge for the next chapter of our lives is maintaining these values, as they are at the core of our sense of self.”
Cornell focused on the difficult work ahead and the potential to rely on the training and relationships found at SLS. “Yesterday we were merely law students but today we take the first step on a path that will give us tremendous power to shape the world,” said Cornell. “As advocates our voices will reverberate. We will be leaders, judges, senators, law firm partners and heads of NGOS, we will seek justice and some of us will become justices.”
During his speech, Cornell also honored Leon Cain, an SLS classmate who would have graduated this year but had passed away in an accident last summer. Cornell highlighted the gold ribbons that students, faculty and staff wore at the graduation ceremony in memory of Leon.
Uphold the Rule of Law
Dean Martinez closed the diploma ceremony with the annual ‘charge’ to the Class of 2019. During her remarks, she reminded the capacity crowd of family, friends, and students about the important responsibility ahead for the graduates to uphold the rule of law.
Dean Martinez discussed the World Justice Project, an organization founded by SLS alum Bill Neukom, that attempts to measure rule of law around the world. “The countries at the bottom of the Rule of Law Index – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, and Venezuela – are deeply troubled societies…it is safe to say countries with low rule of law scores are not places where humans are flourishing by any measure.”
She also highlighted this critical time in history, citing the 2019 Rule of Law index: “More countries declined than improved in overall rule of law performance for a second year in a row, continuing a negative slide toward weaker rule of law around the world.”
“I therefore charge you, the graduates of Stanford Law School class of 2019, with upholding the rule of law.
Click here to read the Dean’s full charge to students.
Also at the ceremony, additional awards were presented. The 2019 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service to Stanford Law School was presented to David Huang, JD ‘19 and the 2019 Staff Appreciation Award was presented to Diane Chin, Associate Dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law.