Shaping communities through social justice work

Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women for the United Nations Human Rights Council, urged Northeastern University School of Law graduates at commencement this afternoon to recognize the enormous impact that public service and social justice work can have in the world.

“As young graduates, you have a role in shaping the lives of your families and your communities in social justice work,” Manjoo, an internationally recognized expert on women’s and human rights, told some 200 graduates at Matthews Arena.

The South Africa native, who was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony, also encouraged graduates to embrace the challenges ahead and value their own voices along the way.

Manjoo is an associate professor of public law at the University of Cape Town, and a member of the advisory board to the International Criminal Court’s Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. At Northeastern, Manjoo is a principal advisor to the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy’s Due Diligence Project, a two-year research and advocacy project on state obligation with respect to violence against women.

President Joseph E. Aoun commended graduates for using their classroom and co-op experiences to chart their own distinctive paths toward lives filled with accomplishment. Aoun told graduates they will be called upon to use these skills to master the challenges of a global age — a world in which the spread of global commerce, technological advances and struggles for freedom are raising new legal questions about international trade, intellectual property, privacy and human rights.

“Let your intellect and creativity enable you to chart bold new paths as legal practitioners, scholars and engaged citizens. Let your tenacity and resilience enable you to answer the complex legal challenges of our age, no matter how daunting they may seem. Let your passion and compassion enable you to improve the lives of your fellow men and women. Finally, let your work and your scholarship embody our mission to meet our society’s needs throughout the world,” Aoun said.

Before a beaming crowd of family and friends, commencement speakers echoed a similar message to graduates — that they be proud of their achievements, but remember the important responsibilities they now carry.

Emily Spieler, dean of the School of Law, said the Class of 2011 leaves a strong legacy and a tradition of excellence for future graduates to follow — adding that their Northeastern education has helped them understand not only how to practice law, but also how to think about law.

“You are poised to be both great lawyers and great leaders,” she said.

In her faculty address to graduates, law professor Rashmi Dyal Chand told students their degrees confer upon them not only a new status in society, but also a duty that will last a lifetime.

“Each of you now has both ability and responsibility to engage when you encounter injustice, not to stand passively by,” she said.