Celebrities, Commencement, Law Schools

Commencement Speakers (2014): Any Controversial Choices?

With finals underway and graduation season upon us, law students are left with only a few things to bitch and moan about: their job/debt situations, their commencement speakers, and maybe how much they have to pay for their regalia. This is a time for law students to celebrate their achievements and be happy, but as we’ve come to learn, America’s future lawyers would rather put a damper on the festivities to rage about one last injustice before their time in school is done.

As we noted previously, soon-to-be law grads have gotten so pissy about their law school’s selection of commencement speaker that they’ve written letters, donned protest buttons, and even organized walkouts.

We’ve heard from several of our readers regarding their schools’ speaker picks, and students from a certain well-ranked law school are REALLY unhappy…

Before we get to the hubbub that’s going on, we’ll mention the commencement speakers that’ve already been announced at some of the most prestigious law schools in all the land (in alphabetical order):

  • Columbia: Roberta Kaplan, Paul Weiss (won Supreme Court DOMA case)
  • Duke: Gao Xiqing, Chief Investment Officer, China Investment Corporation
  • Harvard: Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney (S.D.N.Y.) and Mindy Kaling, comedian
  • Michigan: Kathryn Ruemmler, Counsel to the President of the United States
  • Penn: Lilly Ledbetter, inspiration for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act
  • University of Texas: Steve Patterson, Athletics Director at University of Texas
  • UVA: U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA)

So let’s get to the juicy stuff: which law school is hosting a rather controversial speaker this year? It’s UC Hastings, and students are incensed over the selection of Janet Napolitano. She was Attorney General of Arizona, before serving two terms as Governor. She previously served as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, and in September 2013, she became the 20th President of the University of California. Multiple tipsters report that their classmates are incredibly pissed off about this.

Here’s a statement from the Hastings Students Against Napolitano’s Facebook page:

Hastings students are appalled at the selection of Janet Napolitano as this year’s commencement speaker. As former head of the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano spearheaded policies including wide implementation of Secure Communities–a deportation program notorious for its conflation of the criminal and immigration systems–and a detention bed mandate that resulted in the highest number of deportations in U.S. history. Members of the class of 2014 have had their families separated as a result of these policies. The selection of Napolitano shows a movement away from Hastings’s commitment to social justice and is shameful. Hastings students will not stand for such a selection and demand Napolitano be removed immediately.

Students have even posted a petition on Change.org, asking the UC Hastings Board of Directors to say “No to Napolitano.” Dean Frank H. Wu issued a response on the school’s website. Here it is in pertinent part:

As the child of immigrants myself, I have experienced the effects of restrictive policies for determining who may become a citizen. As a lawyer working on a pro bono basis, I did my best to protect the rights of all persons in the campaign against Proposition 187 twenty years ago. As a scholar who has written on these subjects, I have argued for constitutional principles to apply at the borders just as they do within the nation. And as Chancellor and Dean of this law school, I want to be unequivocal: I am proud that we have trained advocates for a cause who wish to stand up and speak out. We will do our utmost to protect the free speech rights of those who wish to share their opinions, while ensuring that the dignity of the Commencement ceremony is maintained. …

While UC Hastings strives to create a welcoming community, we do not shy away from the controversy that is integral to the progress of the law. In this spirit, I look forward to welcoming University of California President Janet Napolitano to the stage for Commencement on May 10.

Some think Dean Wu’s statement shows “a lack of concern for student opinion and outrage,” but you can’t blame the man for attempting to do some damage control. Alas, even the alumni are unimpressed, with one noting that “commencement in particular is not a place to invite discord and protest.”

Given the fact that everyone is so upset, perhaps students ought to consider making a statement with their feet this year. You can go to graduation, but you can also get up and walk out as a group. If you’re feeling like the administration is ignoring the opinions and outrage that you’ve voiced, it’ll be pretty hard to ignore a group of soon-to-be law graduates marching out the doors of the very ceremony meant to honor them.

Just think of it this way: hundreds of thousands of loan dollars later, if your law school education has taught you anything, we hope it’s that if you stand up for something you truly believe in, you can’t do wrong.

Readers, has your law school selected a “crappy” commencement speaker? Sound off in the comments.

Hastings Students Against Napolitano [Facebook]
No to Napolitano [Change.org]
Our 2014 Commencement [UC Hastings College of the Law]

Earlier: Law Dean Complains That School Is Too Poor To Pay For Caps And Gowns

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