A former offensive tackle with a Super Bowl ring.
An attorney who helped usher in marriage equality nationwide.
This year’s crop of law school commencement speakers is a varied bunch, with nary a U.S. Supreme Court justice among them. (At least not yet, some schools haven’t announced their picks, and the nine justices are widely sought after.)
Law graduates will begin walking across the stage to collect their diplomas this month, and some big names will be there to address them. Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law may have landed the boldest names this year, with former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Paul McCartney.
McCaskill will deliver the keynote address, while the rock n’ roll legend will receive the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution’s International Advocate for Peace award. Previous recipients of the award include Bill Clinton and the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The students cited a half century of songs that “celebrate love and understanding, empathy and connection—the foundations of peace that are the heart of the human struggle,” in selecting McCartney.
But the law commencement season kicked off with controversy this year. Former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson withdrew from speaker duties at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law on May 1 after several faculty and students raised concerns about immigration policies during the Obama Administration. (Johnson is currently a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.)
“Secretary Johnson shared with me that he believes that graduations should be free of tension and political controversy and for this reason has decided not to speak,” wrote law Dean Andrew Guzman in a letter to the law school community.
Meanwhile, graduating Harvard law students selected attorney Roberta Kaplan as their Class Day speaker. Kaplan represented plaintiff Edith Windsor in the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Kaplan went on to found litigation boutique Kaplan Hecker & Fink. (She attended Columbia Law School.)
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, graduates of Ave Maria School of Law will hear from former NFL player Matt Birk at their May 11 graduation ceremony. Birk won the Super Bowl in 2013 with the Baltimore Ravens and retired from the NFL that year. He is devoutly Catholic, vocally pro-life and has publicly opposed same-sex marriage. Birk skipped a celebratory post-Super Bowl visit to the White House in 2013 after President Obama praised Planned Parenthood in a speech. Ave Maria is a Catholic law school.
“Birk will share impactful insight with these graduates about to enter their careers in law on how to perform at their highest level to achieve maximum performance and utilize their talents to the fullest,” the school said in an announcement.
As is typical, a number of lawmakers and judges will be offering up words of wisdom to law graduates. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, will address graduates of Vermont Law School on May 11. Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has secured U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will give a graduation speech, just not at a law school. She will deliver the keynote address to undergraduates at Manhattan College on May 17. Sotomayor was slated to be the gradation speaker at the University of California, Davis School of Law in 2018 but had to cancel after suffering a shoulder injury.
New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood is pulling double duty this year. She will speak at Brooklyn Law School on May 17, and will also address graduates of Georgetown University Law Center on May 19 alongside Judge Emmet Sullivan, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch will speak at Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law on May 20.
“We are honored to have Loretta Lynch, a true trailblazer and an outstanding attorney, as our commencement speaker,” said Dean Gail Prudenti in an announcement. “I am grateful that our graduates will have the opportunity to hear from her as they prepare to embark on their own legal careers and blaze new trails.”