UCLA Law’s 73rd commencement ceremony celebrates service for democracy

May 21, 2024
UCLA Law students at commencement

More than 1,000 family, friends, mentors, colleagues and classmates packed UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on May 10 to celebrate UCLA School of Law’s 73rd commencement ceremony. Members of the Class of 2024, adorned in caps and gowns, many with leis around their necks, proudly walked across the stage to accept their diplomas. The moment marked the beginning of the next chapter in their careers as lawyers of conscience who are dedicated to making a significant impact in the world.

The graduates included 375 who earned juris doctor (J.D.) degrees, 228 who earned master of laws (LL.M.) degrees, 60 who earned master of legal studies (M.L.S.) degrees, and 1 who earned a doctor of juridical science degree (S.J.D.).

Michael Waterstone, dean of UCLA School of Law, served as the event's emcee. He highlighted the importance of the occasion and acknowledged the charged campus atmosphere leading up to the graduation.

“A lot has been written about the relationship between darkness and light, and how you need one to appreciate the other,” he said. “In the absence of darkness, light would lose some of its meaning, and vice versa. My hope is that this period leads to renewed light that we can all find, appreciate and enjoy.”

Waterstone also spoke about the importance that the event held for each individual student who was there to receive a diploma and move forward in their life and career.

“As you get older, you learn that life is about moments – and this is one,” he said. “Try to embrace gratitude. Life will be hard, and unfair things will happen. But you can weather those hard times by using gratitude for the gifts that you’ve been given and the people that love you and make sacrifices for you. And I realize so many of them are here today, which is part of what makes this moment so special. Grateful people are happier. … Use the training and skills that you have learned here to make the world a better place. Our world needs you.”

“What is at stake today? What is at stake is the very power to engage in national renewal, to get past where we have been. Strengthening our democracy only happens when we understand how fragile it is.”

Keynote speaker Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar
From left: Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar and Dean Michael Waterstone
From left: Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar and Dean Michael Waterstone

Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former justice of the Supreme Court of California, delivered a keynote address in which he stressed the power of democracy, its fragility and the importance of preserving it.

“Together,” he said, “we can ask a version of the question that John F. Kennedy asked in 1960: not what American democracy can do for us, but what, together, we can do for its cause.”

He elaborated on how the graduates, as lawyers and advocates, have the power to be a positive force in challenging times.

“What is at stake today? What is at stake is the very power to engage in national renewal, to get past where we have been,” he said. “Strengthening our democracy only happens when we understand how fragile it is. That’s where you come in, not just through the clients you are going to serve but through the ideas you are going to protect: guilt requires proof, rules merit respect or revision subject to fair process, effective argument calls for empathy more than emphasis, and progress almost always requires compromise. … Democracy-protecting lawyers, you are going to show the way.”

He continued, “Still, nothing about what I am calling on you to do is too difficult for you. Because I do not think any one of you would trade places with any other generation that has it easier. Because you don’t want to live with regret for what you lost. Because here you learned that power, your power, comes not only from rhetoric or reason but from realizing that democracy lives not just in the headnote of a case but in the chamber of a heart.”

Other speakers included graduating students Abigail Smith, on behalf of the J.D. class; Shreyashi Sharma, for the LL.M. grads; Peter Arceo, for the M.L.S. class; and Sareen Khakh, the 3L class president. Lauren Ahaddian, a J.D. graduate, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Khakh said, “Law school is not easy, even in the best of circumstances, and as a class, we have faced our fair share of challenges. We have risen to these challenges by banding together and demanding better, not just of our university and the legal system, but of the world. We have demanded a world that is just, free and equitable. And we will continue to do so throughout our legal careers.”

“We chose to be here,” Arceo said. “We did it because we had a dream to study law and to make a difference for our communities. Some of us were inspired by leaders in the legal community, and others, the passion to make a positive change for our careers or society. … Those who came before us have shown us the path to success, to be brave, and to help the world become a better place. It is what being a true Bruin is all about.”

“All of us took that leap of faith, to overcome borders, countries, financial hurdles and immigration processes to come together to pursue our passions,” Sharma said. “What is it that has made all of this [our UCLA Law experience] fulfilling for us? It is the human bonds, with all their richness and tension, that we have created in these diverse experiences and learning among each other. … Time immemorial, these bonds have had the power to transform laws, policies and systems.”

“Meeting you made me hope that law school, instead of being torture or, perhaps, alongside it, could actually be fun. The students at UCLA Law are some of the brightest, funniest and most interesting people I’ve ever met,” Smith said. “I can’t imagine what we will achieve over our entire legal careers. … The most important measure of a person is how they treat other people, and this class truly measures up. … I am excited to see what each of us contributes to the legal field and the world at large.”

Watch the full commencement ceremony and read more about the event.

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