More than 2,000 people gathered on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Friday, May 12, to celebrate UCLA School of Law's 66th commencement.
Current affairs involving the nation’s deep political divisions and immigration were common themes in the day’s remarks, as family, friends, faculty, staff and distinguished guests joined in honoring 545 graduates. A total of 349 students received juris doctor degrees (J.D.), and 196 students earned master of laws degrees (LL.M.).
Judge Paul J. Watford of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a member of the UCLA Law Class of 1994, delivered the commencement address.
“We live in very polarized times right now, where more and more people seem to be locked into their own narrow view of the world,” Watford told graduates and their guests. “By virtue of the training that you have received in law school, you have the skills necessary to combat this trend of polarization. … You have the capacity to facilitate constructive dialogue among parties who may strongly disagree with one another, and perhaps in the process help them to see that they share common ground.”
Jennifer L. Mnookin, UCLA Law's Dean and David G. Price and Dallas P. Price Professor of Law, welcomed attendees to the ceremony, which took place under sunny skies on UCLA's Dickson Court, steps from the law school. Following a procession of faculty and graduates and a spirited rendition of the national anthem by J.D. graduate Ira Perez, Dean Mnookin expressed pride in the accomplishments of the Class of 2017 and cited John Adams in emphasizing the importance of the rule of law, especially in times of unrest. As an example, she cited the voluntary efforts of nearly 200 law students who raced to LAX immediately after President Trump’s first travel ban to assist lawyers representing detained travelers.
“You will always remember at this point in time — when current events and the social, political and legal realms collided and created enormous upheaval, domestically and beyond — that you were here, in law school, at UCLA,” she said. “You have learned that mysterious but critical skill of thinking like a lawyer, and I hope that in some part of your professional life, you will, as John Adams asked of all of us, use it to redress wrong and advance right, however you understand those terms.”
Several of the ceremony’s student speakers came from immigrant families or were immigrants themselves. Class of 2017 President Carlos Almendarez, the son of an immigrant who worked as a housekeeper at the Beverly Hills Hotel, told his classmates to “continue fighting the good fight.” And Anika Amin delivered a speech on behalf of her fellow J.D. graduates and spoke of her parents who immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh.
J.D. graduates were 49 percent female and 51 percent male. Approximately one-third were Hispanic, African-American, Asian or Native American. They attended 138 undergraduate institutions and were from 34 different states and nine foreign countries. Six percent already held an advanced degree.
Federico Arata, a native of Argentina, spoke for the LL.M. graduates, who were 58 percent female and 42 percent male, ranged in age from 20 to 46 and came to UCLA Law from 33 countries. “Although we may come from different countries and speak different languages, we all have one thing in common,” he said. “We left the comfort of our countries, the security of our jobs, and our loved ones in pursuit of our best version as persons and as lawyers.”
Student Bar Association President Linda Zhang presented the award for Professor of the Year to Richard Re, assistant professor of law at UCLA Law.
“Now that you are full-fledged lawyers, you basically have a superpower, and it’s a good thing, too, because we have some pretty humongous challenges right now,” Re told the graduates. “Lawyers have a unique ability to see, to criticize and to change the law. Your time here at UCLA has given you a special power and a special responsibility to change the world.”