Make a positive impact on the world. Celebrate our differences. Ask hard questions, be curious about new disciplines, and devise creative approaches to delivering justice.
These were among the many messages graduates of Northeastern University School of Law received on Friday at Commencement, where some 220 graduates were congratulated for their many accomplishments, delivered inspiring speeches, and showered with cheers from family and friends in attendance at Matthews Arena.
Commencement speaker Tracey McCain, senior vice president and head of legal at Sanofi Genzyme, challenged graduates to find a way to make a difference in the world. That opportunity may still be unknown, as McCain said it was for her when she graduated law school. Her opportunity came in the biotech field.
McCain said one of her proudest moments as an attorney was an early assignment at Genzyme, when she was asked to help form a joint venture with a Dutch company to develop a cure for Pompe disease, an ultra-rare and devastating illness. Her group worked on four products over eight years, but in 2006 the FDA approved Myozyme—the first therapy for Pompe disease.
“No matter what you do after today, as long as you leverage the knowledge and experience that you worked hard to gain here at Northeastern and remember to bring your common sense and your humanity every day, no matter what you do, you will be great and you will make a difference,” McCain said.
McCain said Northeastern is “near and dear to her heart.” She said one of her earliest memories was coming to campus for her father’s graduation. Her sister and stepdaughter have also earned degrees from Northeastern, and she got her first job in the legal profession from Roderick Ireland, former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and now Distinguished Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern.
Opportunities are ahead that “we cannot yet imagine”
Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law, told graduates their co-op experiences and a challenging curriculum have prepared them to be nimble in their careers, in which their law degrees “will open employment opportunities we cannot yet imagine.”
“Through your hard work and dedication, you have made positive impacts on the clients you served and improved the reputation of the legal profession. In short, you came to Northeastern because you wanted to make a difference, and you are already doing so.”
— Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law
He pointed to graduates’ many accomplishments, including Colleen Shea receiving the prestigious Skadden Fellowship. Other graduates have earned the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Medal of Excellence, Equal Justice Works Fellowships, and federal clerkships.
“Through your hard work and dedication, you have made positive impacts on the clients you served and improved the reputation of the legal profession,” he said. “In short, you came to Northeastern because you wanted to make a difference, and you are already doing so.”
Paul urged graduates to remember some key lessons they’ve learned from their Northeastern education: asking the tough questions that will unearth the roots of the problems they are trying to solve, fighting hard for their clients without cutting corners or breaching ethics, and devising creative approaches to delivering justice. Paul also encouraged graduates to be curious about disciplines outside of the law and bridge what he called the growing divide between the scientific and business communities and those in arts and politics.
“Lawyers who build the future will be those eager to know more science, business, and engineering, not less,” he said.
Student speakers Andrew Justin Collins, Jennifer Denker, and Emmanuel Sam, all reflected on their time at Northeastern. Collins urged graduates to embrace, not reject, others’ differences in their lives and careers. Denker encouraged graduates to “make the real world a better version of itself.” And Sam described growing up amid civil war in Sierra Leone, which inspired him to seek opportunities to “give voice to the voiceless” and become an advocate for human rights.
Law professor Daniel Medwed delivered the faculty address, and he invited retiring professor Stephen Subrin to join him on stage to share the moment. They delivered the address as a Q&A to each other. Subrin asked Medwed what differentiates Northeastern law students, and Medwed said they were nimble, resourceful, resilient, and committed to teamwork and collaboration.
To conclude their address, Subrin unveiled a red cap with the words “Make Civil Procedure Great Again”—a reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” cap. He presented Medwed with his copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and his hat from Chicken Lou’s, the popular campus eatery across from the law school.
Medwed donned the cap, and presented Subrin with a brick—in recognition of his being a foundational member of the School of Law.