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Highlights of Commencement Day 2022

Some sage advice, some words of encouragement and hope, and more than a few laughs and whoops of congratulations from the audience—Commencement Day 2022 was a time of celebration, reflection, and looking forward for the nearly 450 members of Brooklyn Law School’s classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022, and their families and friends gathered at the Coney Island Amphitheater. It was a particularly joyous day, as this was the first in-person commencement since 2019. 

Following a warm welcome by Frank Aquila ’83, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, singer Regina L. Williams offered a striking performance of the National Anthem. An invocation from Reverend Adriene Thorne, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, followed. She spoke of encouraging the spirit of understanding and kinship for all who are called to seek justice through the practice of law. 

Before degrees were given to all the graduates, several speakers addressed the crowd with messages of gratitude for all concerned—students, professors and administration, staff, families, and friends—who had weathered the rigors of law school during an unprecedented time.

Valedictorian Brian J. Fischer took the floor to speak about the importance of thanking those who have helped him and his fellow graduates get to where they are today and where they will go on their paths. For him, that included his grandfather Louis J. Castellano, Jr., a 1949 Brooklyn Law graduate and civil litigator, who inspired him with his example of overcoming struggles and placing importance on performing pro bono work to change people’s lives. The 95-year-old Mr. Castellano, Jr., was right there on stage with Brian, and later presented him with his degree. Brian also emphasized law school’s importance in bringing together people from very diverse backgrounds and how that sets the stage for a life of working with respect and open-mindedness with those who think differently. 

Student graduation speaker Sarah Kenny, who, as an older student who worked full-time while pursuing her law degree part-time, gave thanks to her cohort for accepting her as one of their own, even though, she said, she “acted like Class Mom!” Kenny highlighted the role of the lawyer as storyteller, of getting to the heart of each case and of relaying the stories of clients with integrity. She also gave a rousing call of strength to her fellow women grads for them to “be the narrators of your own stories.”

A surprise special guest was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who talked about the unexpected opportunities that come along in life that, when seized, change one’s path. He cited his own surprising road to politics that started when, as a student at Harvard who was lacking direction, he was asked to volunteer for the presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy, a move that sparked a passion in him that has led him through his career. “Go for it!” he said. “You’re about to cast off into the unknown. But you have great assets, so garner your courage, take a chance, and if you do, it is my hope that you will find true success in life.”

Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and host of the podcast Stay Tuned with Preet, was conferred the honorary degree of Juris Doctor Honoris Causa, before giving an address to the graduating classes that combined a keen sense of humor with heartfelt words on navigating the road ahead. He spoke of the importance of “reveling in days of joy, like this” amid struggles and difficult times, of being open-minded and seeking the truth from many sides of an issue, of not demanding perfection of oneself but always making your best effort, of public service, and of being open to finding what speaks to you within a career and following that inner voice. Drawing a parallel between this gathering in a venue used for musical performances and that of the path of the graduates, Bharara said, “Your forbears fashioned a beautiful instrument in the law, and your law school taught you how to play. Use more than your head; use your heart, make music. It will be as sublime as anything performed in this theater.”

“You did it! You made it!” exclaimed Michael T. Cahill, President, Joseph Crea Dean, and Professor of Law, as he opened his remarks to the graduates. As he spoke of the fortitude and ingenuity of the students, faculty, and all at the Law School who forged their way through the pandemic, Dean Cahill recalled the late Professor Minna Kotkin as “an exemplar of life in the law.”  Professor Kotkin, he said, always looked for ways to empower people and to lead the fight for those who were most vulnerable. “You have the opportunity and responsibility to carry forward the fight for equity, fairness, and justice that Minna Kotkin did,” said Dean Cahill. “You have the strength, courage, and ability to carry on that fight.” 

With that, Professor Joy Kanwar and Mr. Aquila presented the LL.M. degrees; several of the students had flown to New York from their home countries to receive their degrees. The classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 then proceeded to receive their degrees, each crossing the stage to hoots and applause as their names were called, some carrying their children or with them walking by their sides, some waving to family in the audience, and all smiling.

In closing the ceremony, Dean Cahill again congratulated the graduates, “now Brooklyn Law School alumni!” 

“This is a farewell, not a goodbye,” he said. “We will be here to support you throughout your careers, just as you will be there to support each other.”