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Justice O’Connor tells graduates to recognize the power of the individual
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, U.S. Supreme Court (ret.)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.), who made history as the first woman to serve on the Court, urged graduates of the College of Law renamed for her to recognize the power of the individual.
“The individual can make things happen,” said O’Connor, speaking at the May 3 convocation at Gammage Auditorium on ASU's Tempe campus. “It is the individual who can bring a tear to my eye and cause me to take a pen in hand. It’s the individual who can force a decision and play a role in developing it.
“Whether the individual acts in the legal, the governmental or the private realm, one concerned, intelligent individual can meaningfully affect what many people think is an uncaring world.”
It was the first time since the 2006 renaming that O’Connor spoke at convocation.
“It has been a dream of this law school since it was named in her honor to have her come and give this convocation address to our graduating class,” said Dean Douglas Sylvester. "Today is the day it is finally going to happen.”
O’Connor also told students to strive to be excellent in every task they undertake and to fully embrace their life in the law, relating how the only job offer she had when she graduated from law school was as a legal secretary.
“I didn’t want to do that, so I started my own private practice, sharing a small office with another lawyer in a shopping center way over on the west side of town,” O’Connor said. “Others who had offices in that shopping center repaired televisions, cleaned clothes or loaned money. It was not a high-rent district.
“People came to see me about grocery bills they couldn’t collect, landlord-tenant problems, and other everyday matters not usually considered by the United State Supreme Court. But I always did the best with what I had.”
O’Connor eventually took a temporary job at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
“As is normal for a beginner, I got the least-desirable assignments,” O’Connor said. “But I managed to take away from those very humble professional beginnings, some valuable lessons. I learned the habit of trying to do the best I could with every task, no matter how unimportant it might seem at the time. Those habits can breed future success.”
O’Connor told students that the person at the bottom in a legal proceeding can wield a substantial amount of power.
“The person at the bottom develops the factual predicate on which everybody else acts,” she said, adding that they also are have the first opportunity to propose a solution, and, if based on the right facts and logic, probably will be adopted.
She asked students to give back through pro bono efforts.
“Costs of legal services have escalated beyond the means of many people to afford them,” O’Connor said. “All of us, as lawyers, have to narrow that gap.”
Dean Douglas Sylvester
Sylvester called on students to look upon their legal careers as opportunities to remember the lessons of their legal education.
“As you enter your legal careers, remember the lessons learned here at law school, that law is far more than rules and history,” Sylvester said. “It forces you to accept the moral responsibility of urging particular paths for clients and requires that you act courageously where your conscience does not support the path others would like you to take.”
To illustrate this point, Sylvester provided numerous examples. One involved John Adams who, although he was virulently anti-British, chose to represent British soldiers who fired upon colonists during the Boston Massacre because no other lawyer would represent them.
Sylvester also praised the former General Counsel for Wal-Mart, who urged broader investigation of allegations of bribery and corruption, and facing resistance, resigned, in what has now become an international corporate scandal. Wal-Mart has said they made decisions based on advice of counsel that there was a legal argument that could be made to defend them if they were caught.
“The reason we know about this story is that one attorney in Wal-Mart refused to let this decision stand,” Sylvester said. “Under intense personal pressure, in a way that that prevented her from continuing the career that she had chosen, she fought against Wal-Mart. She wrote memo after memo, she did interview after interview, e-mail after e-mail, to try and do what she thought was the morally responsible decision, even though her employer and her client felt that there was a potential, thin, argument that she could adopt.
“This ended up costing her her career,” he said. “She now has a different job. And her name is Maritza Munich, Class of 1981 of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.”
Sylvester called Munich a model of real courage and responsibility.
A total of 209 graduates received Juris Doctor degrees, another 11 graduates were awarded Master of Laws degrees, and 13 students graduated with Master of Legal Studies degrees.
The College of Law gave special honors on more than 100 graduating students in a variety of categories – from excellence in constitutional law studies, business law and trial advocacy, outstanding service, achievement and interest in federal practice and advancement of women in the legal profession, to superior scholarship and leadership, merit in oral advocacy and moot court competition and dedication to pro bono work.
Among the Class of 2012, 83 graduates were recognized for their pro bono service during law school. The College of Law has nearly 20 student-led pro bono groups that provide students opportunities to gain experience and work in public service.
“In all ways, from the superior theoretical training they receive in the classroom to the literally hundreds of opportunities to gain practical legal skills, our students are exceptionally prepared to practice law,” Sylvester said. “We are so proud of this class and have great confidence in their futures. Students like these are what make this the world-class institution that it is.”
Premier student award recipients
The premier awards presented at graduation are the John S. Armstrong Award, the Strouse Prize, the Mary M. Schroeder Public Interest Prize and the Carey/Armstrong Prize for Achievement in Public Service.
John S. Armstrong Award
Allison Clemency received the John S. Armstrong Award, which honors Armstrong, an Arizona Legislator who introduced the bill that established Arizona’s first institution of higher learning, the Tempe Normal School (forerunner of ASU). The award is given by the law faculty to a student whose strong academic performance best mirrors the law school’s excellence and values.
“The Armstrong Award reflects the high standards of excellence set by the Armstrong family and honors one of the true legends and founders of this state and university,” Sylvester said. “Receiving the Armstrong Award is more than just an honor for achievement in law school -- it forever links that student to the greatest traditions of this state.”
Clemency who was an editor for the
Arizona State Law Journal
, externed for a federal appeals judge and worked in the college’s Civil Justice Clinic.
“Allison has shined throughout her time at the College of Law, achieving high marks in every class,” Sylvester said. “Every faculty member has been impressed by her intellect and academic abilities. I am certain the Armstrong family will see that Allison possesses the qualities that the Armstrong Award honors.”
The Strouse Prize
The Strouse Prize is given annually in memory of Daniel Strouse, a professor and former Executive Director of the law school’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation (LSI), who died in 2007 after a brief battle with cancer. The prize, established by Dr. John Shufeldt, a 2005 alumnus of the College of Law, honors a student who has been a stand-out in his or her work in LSI.
“Dan Strouse was a tremendous teacher and beloved colleague,” Sylvester said. “His strong dedication to teaching the next generation of lawyers in health law and emerging technologies is ably reflected in the Strouse Prize. Every recipient of that award should know they are being truly honored by being associated with Dan.”
This year’s Strouse Prize recipient is Jason Burgoyne, an LSI Scholar who interned at Arizona Technology Enterprise, participated in LSI’s Military Technologies and Nanotechnology research clusters, and was a Fellow in ASU’s Security and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI).
“Jason’s work with SDSI -- particularly in helping to organize and contributing to the success of a conference on drones that was co-hosted by LSI and our Center for Law and Global Affairs at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. -- was invaluable to our Centers,” Sylvester said. “That, and his work towards an LSI certificate, propelled him to the top of the prize list.”
Judge Mary M. Schroeder Public Interest Prize
The Mary M. Schroeder Public Interest Prize honors the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and is awarded to a student who has committed to practice public-interest law after graduation and admission to the Bar.
Award recipient Kevin Heade is a former middle-school teacher on the Navajo Nation who during law school was a fellow in local public defender offices, clerked for the National Whistleblowers Center and was a summer public-interest fellow.
“Everything Kevin has done at law school has been focused on serving the underserved,” Sylvester said. “He has demonstrated a tremendous commitment to working in public interest, and through the variety of curricular and extracurricular projects he has undertaken, we have great confidence that he will build a career serving the underserved. We wish him all the best as he begins his work with the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender.”
The Carey/Armstrong Prize for Achievement in Public Service
The Carey/Armstrong Prize for Achievement in Public Service is given to the student who makes the greatest contribution to public service during his or her time in law school.
The award, presented by the W.P. Carey Foundation and J. Samuel Armstrong IV, will be presented to Amy Powell, whose lengthy list of public service includes an externship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a clerkship with the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender in California, an internship with The Alliance for Children’s Rights and extensive pro bono work.
“Amy has among the highest number of pro bono hours of any graduating student in recent history, a tremendous feat at a law school whose students annually provide more than 100,000 free hours of legal and law-related services,” Sylvester said. “In particular, she has shown a passion for working with juveniles and on issues in juvenile law. She leads by example and is sure to continue to do so into her career.”
Other outstanding students
Claudia Gonzalez Jimenez received the Janet S. Mueller Oral Advocacy Award, which is given for excellence in oral advocacy and moot court competition. Gonzalez was a finalist at the Moot Court Oral Argument Competition in 2010 and at the Jenckes Closing Argument Moot Court Competition in 2009. In 2011, Gonzalez and her teammate won first place in brief writing and second in overall oral advocacy at the Hispanic National Bar Association Moot Court Competition.
“I came into law school not really thinking of myself as a public speaker, but my involvement in moot court and other things has truly inspired me to be an oral advocate and made me more confident in that area,” she said.
She and her family emigrated from Mexico when she was three years old. She attended Emory University in Atlanta, where she double-majored in Political Science and Spanish Literature. She also co-founded a chapter of the Latina sorority, Lamda Theta Alpha.
“Knowledge is power,” she said. “The more you know, the more empowered you are.”
Bedar Fars Aziz, who attended the College of Law on a scholarship from the Kurdistan Regional Government, received a Master of Laws degree at convocation. Kurdistan is a federal region inside Iraq.
The 23-year-old Aziz graduated first in his law school class at Salahaddin University in 2010, and he soon will return to Kurdistan to work as a law professor there. Aziz chose the College of Law at ASU because its customized LL.M. program gave him the opportunity to concentrate his studies on subjects that interested him. He focused on government and administration law, and hopes to make a difference when he returns to Kurdistan.
“If my government were free from corruption and more transparent, it would change everything.” Aziz said. “It is our right to become a free and independent country, and I want to help do that.”
He said that the professors in Kurdistan teach strictly by the book and don’t focus on more recent developments in the law. Aziz said he hopes to implement some of what he has learned from his law professors into his own teaching style.
“I want my students to know how the law is right now, not just how it used to be,” Aziz said. “This will help them to make bigger changes.”
Blaine Bandi received the inaugural Outstanding Master of Legal Studies Graduate Award at convocation. Bandi, Executive Director of the Arizona Health Facilities Authority, enrolled in the MLS program in fall of 2009 because he wanted to better understand how legislation, regulation and policy shapes health-care delivery. The MLS program is designed for non-lawyers who want to understand, but not practice, law.
Bandi said his course of study was consistently challenging, immensely informative, occasionally humorous, often frustrating and an invaluable investment.
“More than anything else, I will remember my progressive exhilaration of developing an understanding of the processes that shape our laws, legislation and regulations,” said the 53-year-old Peoria resident. “I am not always happy with the outcomes of these processes. However, unlike three years ago, I now appreciate the complexity of the relationships between the ‘real world’ practitioners, the policymakers and the interpreters.”
“I will be able to work better with contracts, integrating legislation, figuring out the nuts and bolts,” he added. “I’m more confident knowing what I’m looking at. And I will have a better understanding of the lawyers I work with and how to interact with them.”
Bandi said his best memories of his law school experience are of attending the U.S. Supreme Court arguments on challenges to President Obama’s health care in April.
“For someone in my career, interested in health care, at this particular point in time in our history, it was an amazing experience.”
Top faculty and student selection awards
Professor Alan Matheson was selected by the Class of 2012 to receive the Outstanding Faculty Award. Matheson arrived at the College of Law in 1967, and has since served as Dean or Interim Dean several times. He teaches in the arid of constitutional law, community property, administrative law and education law.
“I am honored and surprised,” Matheson said. “Anytime a teacher receives recognition from students, it’s a wonderful thing to experience. I’m deeply grateful.”
Alexander Lacroix was chosen by a vote of the class to be the student convocation speaker