“Whether it is bar association work, providing legal assistance to clients unable to pay, or political advocacy of some sort, you will not only learn important lessons not taught in any law school course, but also receive unexpected intangible rewards from such work,” said Stevens, who retired in June 2010 after serving for 35 years as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Stevens was addressing the members of the JD and LLM classes of 2012, who were subsequently hooded. Two hundred and twenty graduates received the JD degree during Duke’s weekend ceremonies, with 26 also earning an LLM degree in international and comparative law, and 27 also receiving a master’s degree from another graduate school at Duke University. Two JD graduates earned simultaneous degrees through Duke Law School’s partnerships with other universities, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Sciences Po, in Paris. Ninety-five internationally trained lawyers received LLM degrees and 17 completed Duke’s one-year program in Law and Entrepreneurship.
Stevens reminded the graduates that integrity is their greatest asset. “If your word is good, you will have a successful career,” he said, adding that “I don’t know” is a permissible answer to a question posed by a client or prospective client.
“Your ability to find answers to difficult questions and your good judgment are far more important assets than your ability to memorize black-letter rules,” he said. “The research skills and general resourcefulness you have developed as students at this fine law school will serve you to that end.”
The justice began his address by listing his various ties to Duke. “Philip Alito, a son of a respected former colleague and current friend, Sam Alito, is a member of the graduating class. My daughter, Sue Mullen, who is here with me today, earned her degree in English literature at Duke. One of my closest friends for many years, Robert G. Seaks, graduated from Duke Law School at the top of his class in 1934; he was my roommate in the Bachelors’ Officers Quarters at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base during most of World War II. … The fact that the man who appointed me to the Court of Appeals in 1970 was a Duke alumnus should provide a sufficient justification for my participation in this important event.” President Richard M. Nixon was a member of the Class of 1937.
“Far more relevant, however, is my respect for Dean David Levi’s work in the law, first as a law clerk to my colleague, Justice Powell, and later as a superb United States district judge,” Stevens said. “I particularly remember his excellent opinion in a case involving the constitutionality of a durational residency requirement for state welfare benefits in which I wrote the Court opinion affirming his judgment. And, of course, I must express my appreciation for the role that his father, Attorney General Edward Levi, played in endorsing President Ford’s decision to ask me to serve on the Supreme Court.”
Speaking on behalf of the JD graduates, Joanna Darcus recalled her recent encounter with an admitted student who asked her whether, in retrospect, she felt satisfied with her decision to attend law school at Duke.
“I was struck by the ease with which I could affirm -- without exaggeration -- that Duke Law has lived up to my high expectations for what law school should be, she said. "Among other things, I expected to build strong relationships with my classmates and professors. Check. I expected us to explore the law and have great conversations about technical legal questions. Check. I also expected to engage with the broader community and to feel like I could have an impact. What I did not expect was how being part of this community would raise my expectations for myself and for what we could do together.
“… [T]he class of 2012 arrived at Duke on the basis of what we’d accomplished individually. Now, three years later, we can tell the stories of what we’ve achieved together. Ultimately, I haven’t just felt like I’ve had an impact, I know that we’ve had an impact. I don’t have time to tell the stories of all that we have been part of and how we have been changed through innocence work, street law, clinics, and preparing tax returns. But that was just our beginning. We are poised to be part of much more.”
Addressing his LLM classmates, Frederik Grysolle said the friendships and cultural understanding that individuals from 32 different countries formed at Duke “are everlasting and essential for the world we are living in.” Grysolle, a native of Belgium, added that he observed democracy and freedom of speech “in practice” at Duke.
“Students discussing with professors, open doors, grabbing a coffee with the dean, having a chat with a CIA director, issuing statements about amendments to the Constitution. We, the people, became We, the Dukies. Different visions, even the most absurd ones, different cultures, all keeping each other in balance. It expresses a deep faith in human kind.
“And when I see our class, I have a lot of faith,” he said.
In his tribute, Dean Levi reminded the graduates of their start at Duke Law at the height of the financial crisis, which led to a dramatic contraction in the legal economy:
“Your career begins as our economy and profession are slowly recalibrating. Be assured that during the decades of your professional career, the pendulum will swing again and again. You will work through periods of economic growth and opportunity. And you will likely see another significant economic downturn.
“Through it all, you will find that the education you have received here has prepared you to reach your full potential as a lawyer and citizen.
“Now you are ready to take your place in a profession whose primary purpose is to keep the social fabric together and to keep the machinery of our democracy and our legal and economic systems well-oiled and fair,” he added. “You have earned the right to join our distinguished body of alumni who practice law and serve the common good all over the world.”
Board of Visitors member and Duke University trustee Peter Kahn ’76 welcomed each member of the Class of 2012 to the Duke Law alumni community, pausing to hood his daughter, Alyssa; several other graduates were hooded by family members.
At a ceremony a day earlier, faculty and administrators honored a number of graduates for outstanding academic performance and service.
Legal Specialty Awards
- Business Organization & Finance Law: Justin Van Etten and Calvin Winder
- Clinical Practice: Laren Haertlein
- Commercial Transactions & Bankruptcy Law: Kevin Heilenday and Glen Rectenwald
- Constitutional Law & Civil Rights Law: Jennifer Bandy, Julia Wood, and Christine Paquin
- Criminal Law & Procedure: James Harlow and Leigh Krahenbuhl
- Environmental Law: Jennifer Hayes and Matthew Tynan
- Family Law: Shaunda McNeill
- Intellectual Property & Technology Law: Uly Gunn, Joseph Long, and Shiveh Roe
- Interdisciplinary Studies: Timothy Calloway and Leigh Llewelyn
- International, Transnational & Comparative Law: Karen Gift and T. Alexandra Koenig
- Legal Theory: Thomas Dominic
- Regulatory Law: Taylor Auten
- Taxation Law: Adam Holmes and Jacob Johnson
- Writing: Vivian Chow and Bryan Leitch* (* selected in 2011, as a 2L)
- Advocacy: Sarah Boyce
- Law School Community: Justin Becker
- Pro Bono: Julie Bellware and Gordon White
- Public Service: Joanna Darcus and Caitlin Swain-McSurley