Few commencement addresses are uplifting enough to remember much past the graduation parties, but at least one law school will have an unforgettable speaker this year.
Jerry Springer, famous tabloid television show host � but also the former mayor of Cincinnati and graduate of Northwestern University School of Law � is the school’s commencement speaker. Dean David E. Van Zandt issued a statement noting that Springer has had “a very successful career in the news and entertainment industries.”
Northwestern is not the only law school that will hear from an alum who has made a career in television.
Cynthia McFadden, co-anchor of the ABC News, will address the graduates of Columbia Law School, where she graduated in 1984. McFadden was selected based on her unusual career path and her long-time commitment to the law school, said Devora Whitman, who co-chaired the Columbia graduation committee with fellow student Chandra Jones.
“Columbia [Law School] doesn’t give honorary degrees or honoraria, so it nearly insures that you only get a really involved alum speaking at graduation,” said Whitman. “We were interested in someone who used their law degree in a really different way, and she is a great female role model.”
The gold standard
Supreme Court justices, past and present, are the gold standard for law school commencements. But only two will speak this year.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, now chancellor of the College of William and Mary, will speak to the graduating class at the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law.
“Having such an important figure in modern history present at graduation is an incredible honor,” said Sarah Fulton, president of the law school’s Student Bar Association.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer will address the graduating classes of Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.
Northeastern’s law school dean, Emily Spieler, said the school has been hoping to have Breyer as commencement speaker for the last few years.
“I understand he speaks at a limited number. We are delighted and proud he accepted our invitation,” Spieler said.
Karim Marshall, outgoing president of the Student Bar Association at American, said the process of selecting and inviting Breyer began shortly after graduation last year.
“People of repute and stature have very busy schedules, so you have to start early,” he said. “Part of the process is selecting a speaker with an affinity for our school. Our school has a history of dedication to international law and human rights, and Justice Breyer has been a leader in those fields.”
Not all top law schools invite outside speakers. Yale Law School alum Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J., will address Harvard Law School’s graduating class, while Yale law graduates, who traditionally choose their speaker from the faculty, will listen to business law professor Kenji Yoshino.
“For us it was more important that the speaker have something to say to the class than pick an alum,” said Pascale M. Thomas, one of four elected class marshals who invited Booker. “Mayor Booker came up on day one.”
The student graduation committee at University of California at Los Angeles School of Law expressed an interest in hearing from a practicing lawyer, said Elizabeth Cheadle, assistant dean for students. The speaker will be Morgan Chu, a partner and litigator at Irell & Manella who specializes in intellectual property. Chu earned his law degree from Harvard Law School but his bachelors, masters and Ph.D. at UCLA.
“We tend to get people doing interesting things, often active in the public sector,” Cheadle said, citing Warren Christopher, Janet Reno and Jesse Jackson as examples. “The graduation committee expressed the desire to hear from someone who is practicing law, and Morgan Chu is a distinguished attorney. For our audience he will be great.”
The speakers at other law schools are varied, even if in most cases the speakers are faculty, students or alumni.
• Stanford Law School graduates, in keeping with school custom, will hear a speech from the winner of the Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching, which is voted by the graduating class. The winner this year is Joseph Bankman, professor of law and business.
• Recently-appointed Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos will address the Vanderbilt University Law School commencement.
• Timothy W. Finchem, commissioner of the Professional Golfers Association Tour, will speak at the University of Virginia School of Law. Finchem graduated from the University Virginia’s law school in 1973.
• The graduating class at Cornell Law School chose as speakers students Nina Charlotte Alice Winkler and Michael H. Bornhorst and Professor John H. Blume, director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the law school.
• William H. Neukom, president of the American Bar Association and partner in the Seattle office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, will address Duke Law School graduates.
• University of Notre Dame Law School students will hear remarks from Professor A.J. Bellia, whom they voted Teacher of the Year.
• New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, a 1996 graduate of New York University School of Law, will address the law school’s graduating class.