If this year’s Tulane Law graduating class was described in one word, it would be resilience.
The COVID-19 pandemic, major record-setting hurricanes, new virus variants, all touched the lives of graduates – who persevered, nevertheless. On May 21, 215 graduates – JDs, LLMs, Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law (MJ-LEL) and one SJD – took to the stage in the 171st Tulane Law Commencement ceremonies to receive their degrees.
“Each of these crises unfolding one after the other was dislocating and brought intense challenges to stay focused, and on track,” law Dean David Meyer reminded graduates and those in attendance at Avron B. Fogelman Arena in Devlin Fieldhouse . “But I hope they also confirmed your choice to dedicate yourself to the law and given you a powerful new sense of purpose. Because each of these crises has spotlighted the precariousness of all that is precious to us: health, justice, democracy, life itself, and underscored the essential, crucial, indispensable role of lawyers and the rule of law.”
The JD class faced great challenges, Meyer recalled. Arriving in the fall of 2019, the Class of 2022 learned quickly to maneuver through adversity. In the spring, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, sending everyone home to learn remotely.
And there were back-to-back years of record-setting hurricanes, seven named storms in 2021 alone, Hurricane Zeta, whose eyewall was the first to pass over the city of New Orleans in a half-century, and then Hurricane Ida which also tied a record for the strongest storm to make landfall in the state.
Still, students showed mettle and dedication to their studies, Meyer said.
This theme of resilience resonated across speakers, including Class President Kelsey Siegler who reminded her class that despite adversity, they had the great fortune of living in a city that enveloped them with love and would forever bind them together.
And Wayne Lee (A&S ’71, L’74) the graduation speaker, himself among the country’s most respected trial lawyers and one of the first Black alumni of the law school, encouraged the class to work hard, but also become part of community solutions.
“Practicing law is not just a job,” Lee reminded graduates. “I encourage all of you to find something you are passionate about and that drives you. But also do what you can do to help the profession get better. We’re counting on you. I fervently believe and I’m confident that you will be setting new horizons, breaking new glass ceilings and carrying us forward.”
In addition to conferring degrees, graduation ceremonies are a chance for the graduating class to bestow two teaching awards upon faculty. Prof. John Blevins received the Monte Lemann Award, named in honor of a distinguished Tulane alumnus, practitioner, civic leader, and teacher. Blevins, an adjunct professor was honored for his outstanding teaching and service; he teaches courses including Criminal Law and Federal Civil Procedure.
Prof. Stephen Griffin was awarded the Felix Frankfurter Award, named in honor of the late U.S. Supreme Court justice and presented to a full-time faculty who, in the opinion of the graduating class, demonstrated an outstanding commitment to teaching and classroom instruction. Griffin, who joined Tulane in 1989, teaches Constitutional Law and the Law of Democracy and is an expert in constitutional theory and history, and his work emphasizes understanding American constitutional law from an interdisciplinary and historical point of view.
Prior to graduation, on May 20, Tulane Law also hosted the annual Graduation Awards Night, which celebrates the leadership and scholarship of dozens of graduates. You can read more about Grad Awards here.
Additionally, law students received a number of prestigious awards from the university, including the Tulane 34 Award, which honors leadership, service and scholarship and the Crest Award, which honors students who’ve taken leadership roles within the university.