Law school is a game of endurance. Survive four years of classes, reading, case briefs, study groups, and tests and you are rewarded with a law degree. For the Nashville School of Law class of 2021, life threw in a global pandemic to keep things even more interesting.
So, it is easy to see why there was a special measure of joy in the room as the class of 2021 crossed the stage and received their diplomas in front of a ballroom full of socially distanced friends and family, the first such gathering the School has had in two years.
“The stress and the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 increased the usual burdens of the last year of law school and added unfamiliar challenges,” said President & Dean William C. Koch, Jr. in his welcoming remarks. “Through it all, the class of 2021 found new ways to learn, study, and collaborate. I congratulate each of you for your tenacity, your resilience, and agility in overcoming these challenges. You – and in fact all of us – deserve this celebration today.”
Dean Koch recognized seven students who had performed 50 hours of pro bono service during their law school career: Olivia Al-Sadi, Sydney Raines Ashcraft, Stefany Bonfield, Stefanie Brake, Stephen Gallant, Emily Hobby, and Elizabeth Kelly. Brake received special acknowledgement for performing the most pro bono hours. All seven students’ names will be submitted to the Tennessee Supreme Court for consideration for the Court’s “Law Students for Justice” distinction.
The students ranking in the top ten percent in each graduating class become members of the honorable Society of Cooper’s Inn. This year, Olivia Al-Sadi, Stefany Bonfield, Whitney DaSilva, Stephen Gallant, Ellen Hendrickson, and Leslie Todd earned the honor. In addition, Al-Sadi was presented the Founders’ Award for achieving the highest overall grade point average in the class.
Dean Koch then conferred the doctor of jurisprudence degrees upon the students before Professor David Hudson read the names of each graduate as they crossed the stage to receive their diploma.
In remarks to the Class of 2021, Dean Koch commended the class for their determination in becoming lawyers.
“You are the true believers among us today. The greatness of human beings lies not so much in their power to remake the world, but in their power to remake themselves. This is precisely what you have accomplished, and it is that accomplishment that we celebrate today.”
The Dean also spoke to the obligation each of the graduates has as they enter the legal profession, noting that the privilege to practice of law comes with distinct responsibility, especially in the current environment.
“We hope that we have succeeded in empowering each of you that deep in your souls, you matter and that your responses to the challenges awaiting you can make an enormous difference in peoples’ lives. As lawyers, having that ability means that you have an obligation not to squander it.
“We are living in uncertain times. The rule of law and the very foundations of our government are under assault from without and within. The traditional norms of mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance have been replaced by partisanship and distrust.
“Over and over we hear people say that someone should do something about this. Now, with your law degrees, you can,” Dean Koch said.
As the student speaker selected to represent the class, Al-Sadi reflected upon the journey she and her classmates have taken to arrive at graduation – all “1402 (days) since we first sat down in those chairs on the first day of orientation.”
She recounted advice first year law professor Marshall Davidson shared with the class that “consistent, conscientious, and thorough preparation was going to be the key to success.”
“What’s imperative about his advice is that consistent, conscientious and thorough preparation requires action,” Al-Sadi said. “It requires that no matter where you are, you make the decision to start, and then you make the decision to consciously audit your progress. To consciously audit every action to make sure it’s leading you toward the end goal. And it also requires that along the way you be willing to recognize the imperfections of your practices so that one day you end up accumulating the life and the practice that you wanted.”
The ceremony ended with the benediction by 2021 graduate William Williford, who offered prayers for everyone present and those who could not be in attendance. He noted the impact the professors have had on the students in preparing them for the practice of law.
“We bow indebted before our professors who have shared their wisdom and experience. Because of them, our chests are filled with confidence, our minds with knowledge and our hearts with humility,” Williford said.
The entire ceremony can be viewed here.