University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law 2021 graduates took to the stage for convocation on Tuesday, May 11, at the Davis Sports Center.
University of Arizona President Robert Robbins and Arizona Law Dean Marc Miller opened the ceremony by thanking faculty, staff, healthcare workers, first responders, volunteers, and everyone who dedicated themselves to making life better during the pandemic.
“Wildcats adapt, and bear down,” said Robbins.
Miller (remarks begin at 21:30) acknowledged how the class of 2021 faced unique and extraordinary challenges during their time at Arizona Law while noting how they responded with elegance and adaptability.
“I believe that COVID, and the noisy political and community landscape that has defined recent years, will not be a lasting weight on your shoulders. They will be instructive,” said Miller.
He reminded graduate's how this experience will position them to adapt, to lead, to illustrate and embody how we listen across boundaries, how we each work to expand our ability to understand others, to appreciate the immense diversity of views, perspectives, people and politics in our society, and to empathize.
“I do mean that with your legal training, and the challenges you have faced, you are well positioned to help not only mend, but to improve our larger communities. That is no small task. But you have already demonstrated you are the people to do it,” said Miller.
Robbins (remarks at 28:16) emphasized how proud he is of graduates for working so hard through unprecedented challenges to reach this day and how impressed he is to have seen students’ compassion for helping one another and for serving the community.
“I know you will go on to do amazing things and that you will create positive impact throughout the world. As you do, know that our Wildcat Family is behind you, we are proud of you, and we are in awe of what you have accomplished and what you will do next,” said Robbins.
Law College Association President Angela Woolridge (‘02) (remarks at 33:50) welcomed graduates into the ranks of alumni, and reminded them to always be true to themselves, treat one another well and to never forget they are part of the Arizona Law community.
Arizona Law Student Bar Association President Sarah Myers (remarks at 38:05) presented the class gift, a Student Mental Health Fund in order to increase the mental health services offered to students at the College of Law.
Lauren Olivia Easter (remarks at 41:02) the Master of Legal Studies class speaker reflected on her experience as a survivor of domestic violence and how she saw her legal education as a life-changing opportunity.
“That is what we have all done here. We are redefining the expectations society might have for us. Whether you are a person of color, a single mother, a fellow survivor. Whatever adversity you have faced, remember that you are here, and you should be proud,” said Easter. “Together, we have all persevered.”
The Doctor of Juridical Studies (SJD) and Master of Laws (LLM) speaker, Jingyuan “Joey” Zhou (remarks at 45:38), has called Arizona Law home for the past seven years. During her time at Arizona Law Zhou has earned her JD, her LLM and now her SJD.
“What do I make of my years here? An acronym best described as H-O-P-E,” said Zhou. “Why HOPE? Let me explain. H for help and humbleness. O for open-mindedness and outstanding. P for pragmatism and positivity. And E for endeavor and empathy.”
Zhou shared that although her hometown is half a world away, Tucson has become her adopted hometown, and because of the support of her classmates, staff and faculty at Arizona Law she has never felt alone.
“I am very grateful to have spent a significant portion of my life with the College of Law. It enables students like you and me, domestic and international, with different backgrounds and cultures to flourish and excel. It helps us understand and explore the world. It encourages us to make positive contributions to the greater society. It has done so through a great vision of inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and pragmatism.”
DeLorean Forbes (remarks at 51:50), one of the two JD class speakers, said that as only one student, he cannot speak to the diversity of experiences, trials, and triumphs that the various members of the graduating class have gone through to reach this moment.
“Each of us has undergone our own unique odyssey, titanic in its scope, to reach the milestone of achievement that we celebrate tonight. Every student that you see here this evening is a hero in their own right. Their lives matter. Their experiences matter. And their accomplishments deserve the utmost celebration and reverence.”
Forbes shared how he was moved beyond measure by the sense of community this class has embodied. He reminded his fellow graduates of the duty that awaits them as they enter the legal profession, the fight for equal justice and for them to embody the type of positive change that they want to see in society.
“The line between justice and injustice now runs through us. And while the long arc of the law bends toward justice, that bend is not inexorable. It is OUR responsibility—no one else’s—to ensure the law’s continued bend toward justice and to ensure that this justice is applied equitably,” said Forbes. “Because justice without equity is simply not justice.”
JD class speaker Katie Derrig (remarks at 59:13) also spoke about working toward justice.
“But being able to see an injustice and step forward to rectify it requires not only the skills that we have learned here, or our intelligence, or our experience; it also requires our compassion,” said Derrig. “Through the trials and tribulations of the last few years, I have experienced first-hand the level of compassion that each of you possess. The selflessness, and complete readiness to assist our peers in need, of so many of you is inspiring.”
JD class of 2021 graduate Paulene Abyeta (remarks at 1:04:24), introduced the virtual keynote speaker U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (remarks at 1:06:28). Abeyta served as a volunteer and community organizer for Secretary Haaland during her congressional term, and shared how inspirational Secretary Haaland has been and how her nomination acceptance speech is one of the most prominent moments in Native American history.
Secretary Haaland congratulated Arizona Law graduates and their families and reminded them that although graduation was a big step, it was just the beginning. She encouraged each graduate to find their passion and pursue it in order to build communities in a better country for future generations.
“With a law degree comes the power to advocate for those less fortunate, fix broken systems, fight for justice, stand up for the rule of law and follow due process,” said Haaland. “How you decide to use your experience here is entirely up to you.”
She asked graduates to remember what first motivated them to pursue a law degree and asked them to think about the issues that wake them up at night. Haaland shared how advocating for voting rights and making it part of her life’s work to ensure more Native people knew how and where to vote, lead her on a winding path from law school to where she sits today, as the first Native American in history to serve as a cabinet secretary.
Haaland concluded by asking graduates, “What is your passion for progress? How will you use your law degree from the James E. Rogers College of Law to pursue that passion for the good of all of us and our environment? Our country and our world are counting on you. Be fierce and don’t let anything hold you back.”