Commencement in Review: Arizona Law Class of 2017

Friday, June 30, 2017

This year, University of Arizona Law celebrated 220 Class of 2017 graduates: 131 new JDs, 10 LLMs, 6 SJDs, 25 MLSs and 48 B.A. in Law students. This year’s graduation ceremony honored Arizona Law’s commitment to service, encouraging graduates to embrace their responsibility to make positive change and address the challenges our world is facing. 

JD graduates Jillian Andrews and Mason Storm Byrd presented the results of the 2017 class gift “Graduate to Service” campaign. Graduates promised to complete more than 4,000 hours of community service over the course of the next three years, in more than 20 cities nationwide. 

“This class gift gives us an opportunity to share the skills that we’ve developed here at Arizona Law with the communities where we’ll practice and live,” said Byrd. “We all recognize the privilege of being able to give to others.”

Elected student speakers Paul Garns (JD), Alancay Morales Garro (MLS) and Bernardo Velasco (JD) all spoke of their distinct experiences at Arizona Law, but shared the common thread of thankfulness for those who helped them throughout their educational journeys. Garro contributed to the commencements theme of service by saying, “You have an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and the wrongs of today. Professionally and personally, you can and will make the difference in the lives of many people.” 

The Honorable Sally Simmons was awarded an honorary doctorate of law degree. Simmons attended Arizona Law for two years before finishing her degree at another institution, and has been a devoted Arizona Law supporter and mentor to students. She shared how inspired she was by the Class of 2017’s commitment to do good and serve others, as demonstrated by their work through clinics, the class gift and the Volunteer Lawyers program. She welcomed graduates to the alumni ranks and encouraged them to continue with the spirit of service throughout their careers.

The newest member of the Arizona Supreme Court, Justice John R. Lopez IV, delivered an encouraging keynote, advising students to not waste their energy planning out their futures or forfeiting their happiness worrying about what the next step will be. He said their careers in law will take them to great places they have not yet even imagined. He urged graduates to enjoy the journey, find inspiration and make a difference.

“Get out there, set a high standard of excellence and integrity, work hard and make a difference in your profession and our community,” Lopez said.

Lopez reminded students that some of the greatest inspirations and success stories are from individuals that rose above and learned from the challenges they faced. He asked graduates to celebrate soaring triumphs with grace and maintain their dignity when they experience defeat and disappointment.

“As you move forward, resist the temptation to assume the worst of your colleagues and your fellow citizens,” Lopez said. “Reject the urge to find a slight, a slur or an insult in your everyday professional and personal interactions. Simultaneously soften your hearts and thicken your skins in your daily affairs in your communities, in our profession and in our politics.”

Lopez highlighted the importance of serving others, noting that has been one of the most rewarding experiences in his career, although it is something not shown on his resume.

Finally, he shared the importance of spending time with those who matter most. “While you’re out there changing the world, don’t shortchange the ones who love you the most.”

Dean Marc Miller addressed the audience, saying, “The Class of 2017 reflects the richness and diversity that typifies a change in country and a changing world.”   

He listed the graduates’ successes and accomplishments, but shared that students say what they truly treasure are the lifelong friendships made and the community they have built that crosses conventional barriers.

He also provided insight on the importance of their new positions after graduation.

“People are calling for lawyers to be leaders,” Miller said. “Whether it is lawyers working pro bono on behalf of immigrants affected by the president’s travel ban, or those working to change our national health care policy. There are fierce battles taking place. With the training you have received here and the intelligence and passion you brought, you are poised to join the fray. Your legal education qualifies you in a very exceptional and rare way to step up to the challenges of this time.”  

Lastly, he challenged students to not accept the status quo but rather challenge it and improve it.

“Ready yourselves for the mantle of civic and professional leadership, and be a moral force in whatever you do. We need leaders. We need reason. We need you.” 

Photos: David Sanders