Brooklyn Law School Celebrates 118th Commencement, Announces Honors
Brooklyn Law School celebrated its 118th commencement ceremony on May 17 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where 328 J.D. and 21 LL.M. degrees were conferred. The ceremony featured an inspiring address by Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General of New York, who received an honorary degree, and a surprise appearance by U.S. Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer. The Law School also has announced the names of graduates who have been awarded honors.
Underwood, a trailblazer as a legal leader and public servant, was first appointed as New York’s Solicitor General in 2007 and served in that position until May 2018 when she was appointed New York State Attorney General, the first women to hold that office. She was reappointed Solicitor General by Attorney General Letitia James in January. Underwood served as the Acting Solicitor General and Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States from 1998 to 2001—the first female Solicitor General in American history. She has argued 21 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently challenging the Trump Administration’s plan to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Underwood, who was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, spoke about early experiences as one of the few women at the Court and at Yale Law School, where she taught from 1972-1982, and how working with Justice Marshall influenced her thinking about the importance of diversity of viewpoints—both on the jury and in society.
“When you go out into the world and into the legal profession, try to make it a better place. Try to make your distinctive voice heard and to listen to as many unfamiliar voices as you can,” she told the graduates. “And also, don’t be afraid of being a pioneer. It turns out to be a pretty rewarding thing to do.”
Stuart Subotnick '68, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, presided over the ceremony and led the conferring of degrees. He acknowledged the alumni celebrating their 50th reunion year who joined the graduates on stage, David Berkowitz ’69 and Jeffrey D. Forchelli ’69, a member of the Board of Trustees. Subotnick recognized Forchelli for his family’s multi-generational Brooklyn Law School legacy and his continued generosity to the school. Amina Darwish, Coordinator of Muslim Life at Columbia University, delivered the opening invocation.
Schumer, who was the Law School’s commencement speaker in 2015, made a surprise appearance at the ceremony. He extended special congratulations to Jenna Jones ’19, who served as the senator’s Director of Scheduling while attending law school.
Schumer encouraged the graduates to be open to unexpected opportunities, relating the story of how accepting a chance invitation from a member of the Harvard Young Democrats to join a campaign helped launched his career in politics. “In that moment of intense anxiety and uncertainly about the future, I took a leap and said ‘okay’ to something completely different, and it enriched my life forever,” he said. “In life there will always be moments that present new opportunities and change the course of things forever. They usually won’t be advertised as such. You just need to keep your eyes open to them.”
The graduates also heard from valedictorian Nastassia Shcherbatsevich ’19 and Spencer Eliot Smith ’19, who was elected student speaker by his classmates.
Shcherbatsevich shared the story of her family’s origin from a small town in Eastern Europe, which led up to the “amazing journey” of her law school years. “Just like every great superhero who gets their origin story played out on the big screen, today is the day to commemorate our beginning,” she said. “Law school has been the final chapter in our origin stories.”
Smith acknowledged the support of his wife and family, and particularly his fellow graduates in helping him through law school. “I am so blessed, thanks to you to have this chance to look out at you as one student body,” he said. “This community has invested in us. This place is imprinted on us. Beyond that, this class is special…When I dropped off my papers [for admission to the New York State bar] I felt the strength of 300 peers behind me.”
Interim Dean Maryellen Fullerton spoke of the Law School’s history of admitting women in the early 20th century when other schools barred them from pursuing law degrees—and how far women have come in the profession. “Today, women make up 53 percent of the class of 2019. I’m proud to say Brooklyn Law School has played an important role in allowing women access to the law.” She also called on the class to effect much-needed change in the legal profession so that lawyers—and their families—can thrive as they excel in their careers. “I hope you will challenge the notion that lawyers need to be available at all times. I hope you will take seriously the important of work-life balance in your career choices,” she said. “Your decisions will have far reaching consequences. They will benefit women as well as men, children and a more robust society. You must be persistent and vigilant. If you are, I am confident that you, class of 2019, will be the instruments of change.”
After the commencement ceremony, the Law School continued its annual tradition of hosting a picnic for graduates and their families in the courtyard of the main campus building.
Hear from the graduates in a special commencement video.