The U.S. Capitol provided a majestic backdrop for Commencement 2011, as more than 900 Law School graduates joined the distinguished ranks of GW alumni at a festive, universitywide celebration May 15 on the National Mall.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was elected mayor just two months after the 9/11 attacks, delivered the Commencement address before an estimated crowd of 25,000 graduates, friends, and family members gathered on the historic Mall.
Mr. Bloomberg received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree at the ceremony, along with Washington arts, education, and community leader Peggy Cooper Cafritz, BS '68, JD '71, and attorney and civil rights pioneer William T. Coleman Jr.
In his address, the mayor called for increased bipartisanship in politics, citing the national unity engendered by the events of 9/11. "Our city, in fact our whole country, did not give in to fear," he said. "We came together as never before."
Mr. Bloomberg urged the graduates to fight for the rights of all people. "Even if it is not popular—especially when it is not popular—we have a responsibility to stand up for the rights of people to express themselves as they wish, to worship how and where they wish, and to love who they wish," he said.
Later in the day, the Law School graduating class—composed of 683 JD recipients and 224 Master of Laws recipients—proceeded to the Charles E. Smith Center for the Law School Diploma Ceremony, featuring keynote speaker John W. Snow, JD '67, former secretary of the U.S. Treasury.
Each graduate was individually recognized at the event, which began with a processional led by faculty marshals Scott B. Pagel, Alfreda Robinson, JD '78, and Joan E. Schaffner. After welcoming remarks by the Law School's marshal, Senior Associate Dean Edward T. Swaine, then-Interim Dean Gregory E. Maggs paid tribute to the Stockton Guard, comprising graduates of the Class of 1971 and earlier. Teresa M. Schwartz, JD '71, J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor Emeritus of Public Interest Law, served as grand marshal of the Stockton Guard.
As always, a highlight of the ceremony was the awarding of honors to outstanding faculty members, staff members, and graduates. Then-Interim Dean Maggs received this year's Distinguished Faculty Service Award, voted on and presented each year by the JD graduating class. The Distinguished Adjunct Faculty Service Award went to Professorial Lecturer in Law Ava Abramowitz. Tamra Christopher, an information specialist, received the Law School's Distinguished Staff Service Award. The status of professor emeritus was conferred on longtime Professor of Clinical Law Joan H. Strand, BA '72, JD '75.
Newly minted Law School graduate Nicholas Bradley received the John Bell Larner Award for earning the highest cumulative grade point average in his class. The Anne Wells Branscomb Award went to Ashley Eiler for attaining the highest cumulative average in the evening program. The graduating class voted Rushab B. Sanghvi the recipient of the Michael Dillon Cooley Memorial Award.
In his remarks, Mr. Snow, who served as secretary of the Treasury from 2003 to 2006, regaled the graduates with anecdotes from his prominent career, as well as his GW Law School days.
He elicited laughter when recounting a story of his early days in the Cabinet. "I was in office three days when it fell to the secretary of the Treasury to defend the 2004 budget of the administration," Mr. Snow said. A member of Congress "who was clearly steamed up" proceeded to attack him on everything from the sinking economy to rising employment, and "working himself into a frenzy," called for his impeachment. "One of the lessons of a good law school is when your opponent is digging himself into a hole and making himself look ridiculous, let him do it," he said.
Law school is "the best liberal arts education in the world," Secretary Snow told the graduates. "You leave this Law School with a deep intellectual capital, an intellectual capital that will allow you to do virtually anything you want to do. My advice would be simply this: As you think about those opportunities, as you use this marvelous education, follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, 'Be your own star.' Look to yourself. Don't let somebody else script your life for you. Be the author of your life, the author of your own destiny."