In the first-of-its-kind ceremony, Rutgers Law students participated in virtual commencement celebrations on May 28, and 373 students were awarded law degrees in both the Camden and Newark locations.
Rutgers University is not holding in-person graduation ceremonies during the Covid-19 pandemic, but all graduating law students are invited back for in-person ceremonies in the fall. At the virtual celebration, each student’s name was called out as a slide show scrolled highlighting the graduate’s photos and quotes, or taped messages.
The virtual experience allowed for video greetings from celebrities that don’t normally attend law school graduation, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Questlove, and Philadelphia ‘76er Matisse Thybulle, along with RUPD Officer Nick Inaugurato, who supervises the Newark location.
In Camden, students heard speeches from Alexa Wissner, president of the day class, and Caitlin Flynn, president of the evening class. Wissner praised students for not giving in when times were tough, “We can make it through any obstacle that stands in our way . . . We made it and we pushed through and we are here at virtual graduation. If law school has taught us one thing. . . nothing will stand in the way of our dreams.”
Flynn recognized the evening students for completing law school while balancing full-time jobs and family responsibilities, and participating in activities that include moot court and student journals. “There’s nothing that these evening students can’t accomplish,” she said.
Several professors also gave warm wishes. American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez gave the keynote address and encouraged the graduates to join bar associations to gain professional development and to advocate for issues. She said, “You are facing unprecedented challenges as law student graduates, but I know because of your grit and determination you will thrive.”
Leading the ceremony was Co-Dean Kim Mutcherson who talked about the diversity of the class – whether they came from across the country or around the world, whether they were parents or second-career students, or the first in their families to attend college or law school. “This is a time of joy,” she said. “The class of 2020 is a gifted, focused and eclectic group. . . Whatever the path to law school, you should feel a deep sense of accomplishment today as you emerge on the other side.” Chancellor Phoebe Haddon conferred the degrees.
In Newark, students also participated in a virtual ceremony and heard from student speaker Nina DePalma RLAW ’20 and faculty speaker Professor David Noll.
DePalma encouraged her classmates to celebrate their accomplishments, “Cheer yourself on. Self- promote. People want to hear about the amazing things you’ve done. Let them know who you are. Let them know you’re brilliant, strong and capable.”
Noll compared this year’s graduates to the leaders of the New Deal who helped guide the country out of the Depression, “Make no mistake, we are in a period of rebuilding our legal system. We’re going to need to do what the New Deal lawyers did to figure out how to respond to these challenges while honoring the values we look to the law to protect. Now it’s up to you.”
Ryan P. Haygood, the President of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, gave the keynote address and urged the graduates not to hope to return to what was “normal,” but to make a better world that seeks to fix inequalities that have been highlighted during the pandemic, “Your graduation, Rutgers Law School Class of 2020 is the beginning of the new normal in New Jersey and I am so honored to welcome you to it.”
And Co-Dean David Lopez encouraged the graduates to honor their family and friends who supported them throughout law school and called on them to show leadership, “We’re at the front lines of the American Dream. Many of you have strayed from the script and beaten tremendous odds to get here. . .You will face new challenges. You are truly magnificent. . .and today you have earned the right to swagger.”
Lopez encouraged the newly-minted graduates to stand wherever they were; then he conferred the degrees of Juris Doctor and administered the Oath of Professionalism.
Professor Diana Sclar announced the names of graduates who earned Latin honors, prizes, and those elected to the Order of the Coif.
To see recordings of the ceremonies, check the Commencement page on the law school website.