On May 12, more than a thousand family members, mentors, teachers and other guests came to UCLA to celebrate the School of Law’s Class of 2023 and watch them cross the threshold from students to alumni.
Outside UCLA’s Dickson Court, guests bought flowers and leis for the graduates, among them 319 who earned juris doctor (J.D.) degrees, 227 who earned master of laws (LL.M.) degrees and 38 who earned masters of legal studies (M.L.S.) degrees.
Graduating J.D. student Sarah King kicked off the two-hour event with a rousing delivery of the national anthem. The roster of distinguished speakers included keynote Rob Bonta, California’s attorney general, and interim dean Russell Korobkin.
“No one entering law school expects it to be easy,” Bonta said, before recounting the tribulations that surrounded the graduates’ years in law school, from the pandemic to mass shootings to the climate crisis to episodes of violent racism. Law school, he said, is “designed to challenge you, to sharpen your skills, to build your resilience, to bring out the best in you and teach you how to use the law as a force for good.”
Bonta continued, recalling Martin Luther King Jr.’s advice to work toward securing justice. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he said. “You have the unique ability to do something about it. To act. There are a lot of people out in the real world who claim the future is bleak. Looking at all of you here today – sunlight bouncing off your smiling faces, limitless possibilities glimmering in your eyes – it’s clear to me that our future is bright. And remember: You’re not just the leaders of tomorrow, though you certainly are. You are the leaders of today. And you’re not destined to be spectators or bystanders in what happens next to our society. You’re destined to shape the future and right historic wrongs.”
Interim dean Korobkin served as the emcee of the event and offered students a final instruction to work as problem-solvers who work with “analytical precision and rigor … empathy, perspective taking, rhetoric and creativity. If we have been successful as a law school, this frothy brew of problem-solving skills has infiltrated your brains, drop by drop,” he said. “This foundational set of skills, along with hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn and adapt, is going to set you up for success – not just in your first job out of law school, but wherever fate takes you professionally.”
He concluded, “Please use these skills to help make the world a little bit of a better place every day. I can’t wait to see all the great things that you are going to accomplish.”
Graduating student speakers included Brandy Alonzo Mayland, the 3L class president, who offered welcome remarks and words of hearty congratulations to her classmates; Amber Dean, on behalf of the J.D. graduates; Sannidhi Sharma, for the LL.M. graduates; and Kyna Collins, representing the M.L.S. graduates.
Collins invoked the late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis in telling her class to “go out there and cause good trouble.” She said, “Class of 2023, we are those who have the privilege to attend and capitalize on this great academic institution. And moving forward, we have a duty to use our knowledge for good for the next generation.”
Sharma spoke of the literal and figurative voyage that she and her fellow LL.M. students, many of whom came from countries all around the world, had taken. “We have embarked on a unique and challenging journey. We have come from different corners of the globe, leaving behind our families, friends and familiar surroundings to pursue our passion for law in a foreign land,” she said. “This program taught me not only how to be a better lawyer, but also how to be a better conversationalist, a better friend, a better person and, more importantly, how to be kind to myself and others.”
Dean took a moment to emphasize the fact that, for the graduating J.D. students, law school started during the height of the pandemic, when remote learning was the norm. “We are a determined bunch. We applied to law school and did not immediately bolt the second that we found out we would be attending law school on Zoom.com,” she said. “In fact, we thrived. We used the unprecedented adversity that we faced to build our own sense of community.”
Dean concluded by emphasizing the graduates’ shared success. “I did not know it at the time, but I came to law school to do more than just learn the law. I came to be a part of a community – a community of people dedicated to make their dreams come to life. While we all dream differently, we all share an important commonality: We did not let fear, self doubt or circumstance hold us back. Instead, we believed in the possibilities and pushed forward. We believed in ourselves and in our community.”
After the ceremony closed with a thunderous applause, students and their guests made their way to Shapiro Courtyard for a reception. With law school now officially behind them, the graduates took group selfies, hugged family members and fellow graduates, and thanked their faculty mentors.