UCLA School of Law celebrated the Class of 2021 in a graduation ceremony that streamed live on the internet on May 21. The event featured live remarks, delivered from the law school, by keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) and UCLA Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin. Graduating students were also treated to recorded messages from faculty members and special guests, including UCLA and NBA legend Bill Walton, as well as law school alumni Judge Paul Watford ’94 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’91 (D-New York).
More than 1,000 people tuned in to watch the commencement and to cheer on 341 juris doctor (J.D.) graduates, 44 master of laws (LL.M.) recipients, and one doctor of juridical science (S.J.D.) candidate. In addition, the school graduated its inaugural master of legal studies class, with eight people earning an M.L.S. degree.
Rep. Lieu, a lawyer himself, spoke directly to the responsibilities that the Class of 2021 must take on as lawyers and citizens.
“I urge you as future attorneys to not reject the evidence of your eyes and ears,” he said. “I urge you to tell the truth not only when representing clients, but also to protect the truth when it comes to core issues, such as our democracy, our right to vote, and our constitution. The motto of UCLA is ‘Let there be light.’ I hope you will continue to shine the light to push away the dark forces trying to cover up the truth.”
Many of the speakers referred to the non-traditional nature of a virtual graduation and to the extreme social, political, and environmental upheaval of the past year and a half.
In doing so, Mnookin put UCLA Law’s 70th commencement into historical perspective. “Today, we can reflect on 70 years of UCLA Law classes and the moments that each has faced and overcome. There have been easier times, but also, like the present, very hard ones,” she said. “As you prepare for the next chapter of your careers, I hope you will remember that you are part of a tradition of thousands of UCLA Law graduates who have encountered challenges, stared difficulty head-on, and gone out into the world, ready to make a difference.”
Graduating class president Michael Cohen introduced Professor Jennifer Chacón as the graduates’ elected Professor of the Year. “Law school is always challenging, it is a process of learning a new language and learning how to prepare yourself for a new professional role. And on top of that, you’ve had so many difficult and challenging things layered this past year and the past three years,” she said. “I hope that you will take this time to remember to hold on to what is soft in you and what is gentle in you – and as you go out to meet the hard world and all of the challenges that face you, that you will hold a little bit of that gentleness in your heart.”
Walton, famous for his exuberance and irreverence, as well as his intense devotion to UCLA, added a heartfelt message with a lighter tone. “We’re the luckiest people on Earth: graduates of UCLA! What a privilege and honor, one that carries with it duty, responsibility, and obligation. New UCLA lawyers – please save us! From ourselves!”
While Walton was not the only speaker to offer a lighthearted message – Emmett Institute Co-Executive Director Cara Horowitz ’01 appeared alongside her bird Zippy – many chose to reflect on the trials and tribulations of a school year that was anything but normal. As Judge Watford noted, “Your accomplishments are all the more extraordinary because you’ve made them in the midst of a global pandemic. The resilience and determination you’ve shown to succeed will serve you well throughout your legal careers. We’re all so proud of you.”
A slate of accomplished graduates also delivered speeches. Miranda Wilcox gave remarks on behalf of the M.L.S. students and offered a touching tribute to her mother and M.L.S. classmate, Maria Wilcox, who died in January. Hala Khalil spoke as the LL.M. representative, and Jazmine Buckley gave an impassioned speech on behalf of the J.D. class.
In addition, UCLA Law singers LawCappella performed a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and J.D. graduate Ryann Basoco Garcia Lechuga, co-president of the Native American Law Students Association, presented the land acknowledgment.
Mnookin offered a summary note of congratulations and gratitude. “My most heartfelt thanks to all of our students who spoke so powerfully today,” she said. “You are extraordinary. You are talented. You are empathetic. You care about justice. And you understand complexity. You are so very ready to go into the world and to shine.”