BROOKLINE – With the sun on their shoulders and a glimmer of post-COVID-19 normalcy on the horizon, hundreds of Northeastern University School of Law graduates gathered on Parson’s Field Friday after a year unlike any other.
Simply arriving at the bright field located among the narrow streets of Brookline served as the last step in the graduates’ tumultuous journey, said James Hackney, dean of the School of Law.
“Just as everything in our world has changed over this past year, getting to this field may have literally required rideshares and T fares. But figuratively, our students have climbed mountains to get to this terrain,” said Hackney.
“You are Northeastern University School of Law graduates. There is no doubt in my mind that you will reach heights that make our world a better place.”
Eleanor Landsbaum, who received her juris doctorate degree, soaked in the warm air Friday afternoon as she walked towards Parson’s field with her mother Laura.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster,” said Landsbaum. “I’m just glad we’re able to cap it off in person.”
The class of about 250 graduates—who received juris doctorate degrees, master of law degrees and master of legal studies degrees—have accomplished much despite learning and working remotely, Hackney said.
They completed 300,000 hours of legal work at 800 sites, did co-ops in 26 U.S. states and territories, Washington D.C., and six countries. The class devoted 137,000 hours to public interest co-ops, Hackney said.
Media and technology lawyer Nabiha Syed, who championed free speech while working for publications such as Buzzfeed and The Markup, urged students to tap into their passions as they move forward and practice law.
“If you care about justice, the last year was perhaps one of the most challenging we’ve ever seen. We felt the absence of justice in so many of our society systems,” said Syed in a video address. “Take that feeling and stare it straight in the face. That feeling is going to be what helps you find opportunity and motivation amidst all of the chaos.”
Margaret Burnham, university distinguished professor of law, who founded and directs the law school’s Civil Rights Restorative Justice Project, said the past year has prepared 2021 graduates like no other class to address ongoing inequities within the legal system—inequities that inspired many of the law school’s graduates to get involved.
“In front of you is the work we hope we have prepared you to do,” said Burnham. “It’s the work you set out to do long ago, some of you years before you came to Northeastern. It’s the work you fervently recommitted to in this year of progressive protest, the work of building a legal system with equal justice at its heart.”
Graduates should marry their frustrations about those inequalities with the skills they have recently learned, Burnham said.
“If we’ve given you some of the tools you will need to build a lifelong public interest career, then we have succeeded. If we have prepared you to leverage the power of law to meet to the moment—the convergence of structural racism, public health urgencies and vaccine apartheid, the ongoing impoverishment of working-class people, then we have succeeded,” said Burnham.
“Go forth, my dear ones. Be strong, be solid, be loving, and make us a new world. We certainly deserve it.”
Northeastern provost David Madigan, who presided over the service, urged graduates to cherish the connections they made following a year that focused on social distancing.
“Your ideals are what drew you to the legal profession. Now this is your moment. Wherever your path leads, you have the power to ensure a more just world,” said Provost.
“As you pursue this noble mission, remember the lesson of this past year: our human connections give us the strength to overcome any challenge.”
Three student speakers also addressed the crowd, urging them to use their newfound legal skills to help restore social justice.
Moriah Wilkins, former chair of the Black Law Student Association at Northeastern, suggested that she and her classmates are uniquely qualified to bring change to the world after weathering a year of great upheavals themselves.
“We, the class of 2021, are the visionaries of a whole new world and whole new way of existing. We are the visionaries that will reimagine justice, accountability, and more importantly, community,” said Wilkins.
“One of the main reasons I remain hopeful for a better future is because of all of you. Your existence alone is proof that systemic and institutional change is possible,” she said. “Let’s serve people, let’s serve communities, let’s destroy every oppressive system in this country and this world. Let’s do it together.”
Alysia Madan urged the graduates to use their privilege and position to speak for those who have been silenced, and tap into their own resilience to do so.
“Although we may have been apart, we still made it through together. We made it through these unprecedented times, and we will continue to persevere,” said Madan.
Sumit Sachdeo championed the diversity of graduates, pointing to graduates from Guinea, Mongolia, Uruguay, and Vietnam.
“You are bigger than your past, your present and even your future, so rise above the day-to-day anxieties and concentrate on what really matters,” Sachedo said.
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