Michael J. Sorrell ’94 MPP ’90, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, told Duke Law’s class of 2018 that the world needs them to “fall in love with justice” and engage the critical problems facing society at their May 12 convocation ceremony in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The class includes 216 JD graduates, 16 of whom also received an LLM in international and comparative law, 10 who also received an LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship, and four who also received a JD/MA in Bioethics and Science Policy. Sixteen students received the new Public Interest and Public Service Law certificate in addition to their JD degree.
Ninety-five international lawyers received an LLM degree, and one graduate received the SJD degree, the highest in law. Eight graduates completed the one-year LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship, and 21state, federal, and international judges received a Master of Judicial Studies degree after completing eight weeks of coursework and writing a thesis with original research over a two year period. A posthumous Master of Legal Studies degree was awarded to Chen Sheng, a member of the class of 2018 who died during her 2L year.
Graduation festivities began with a gala in Star Commons and included a family barbeque, a candlelight dinner for international LLM students, and the presentation of the Justin Miller Awards, the Academic Awards, and the $44,838 class gift.
“Fall in love with the issues of the day”
In addition to Sorrell, three student speakers addressed the convocation ceremony. Justice David Collins of New Zealand’s High Court spoke on behalf of the Master of Judicial Studies graduates, and David Kuwabara and David Kryzanovsky offered remarks on behalf of their respective JD and LLM classes.
David F. Levi, the James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean of the School of Law, led the convocation, his last as dean before Karen L. “Kerry” Abrams, the vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of law at the University of Virginia, succeeds him on July 1. Levi will remain at Duke Law as inaugural director of the Bolch Judicial Institute, where he will continue to lead the Master of Judicial Studies program, which Collins praised during his graduation speech.
“Under the guidance of Dean Levi, Duke Law School has risen to the task and established America’s leading judicial institute to foster research and understanding about the judicial branch of government,” Collins said. “We, the judges who are graduating today, are the beneficiaries of Dean Levi’s foresight and leadership.”
Kryzanovsky called on his classmates to excel and lead in their respective fields and countries: “Some of us will be fighting for the constitutions of our countries, others will be promoting human rights. Some will serve as representatives of their people in the government, while others will be opinion leaders and scholars in their field.”
And Kuwabara recalled his first day at Duke Law, when Levi talked to the incoming first-year students about the importance of becoming a “citizen-lawyer.”
“Eventually, I learned that a citizen-lawyer is more than a legal technician, more than someone who know the terms and conditions you never read on Amazon,” he said. “A citizen-lawyer gets that it’s about people.”
Sorrell, who turned struggling Paul Quinn College into a model for innovative urban higher education and was named one of Fortune’s “50 Greatest World Leaders” in April, received a standing ovation as he exhorted the graduates to embrace the concept of justice for all and to lead by engaging in the issues of the day.
“For some of you, those issues will be domestic violence, for others it will be homelessness or prison reform,” Sorrell said. “For others still, your quest for justice will lead you outside the practice of law. That is what happened to me.
“My courtship with justice led me to Paul Quinn College, and it was there for the first time in my life that I was exposed to poverty on a daily basis, and that daily exposure to poverty changed my life. Witnessing the choices people are forced to make when they live lives of scarcity, changed me.”
Sorrell ended his speech by calling on students to lead with humility, courage, vision and planning, and to leave places better than they found them: “We stand on the shoulders of giants, so we don’t get the choice to be small. You stand up, you count, you take a stand for the things that matter … Fall in love with the issues of the day. We need you, and we need you to be great.”
The Justin Miller Award winners, selected by their peers for demonstrating the highest levels of citizenship, leadership, intellectual curiosity, and integrity during their time at Duke Law, were celebrated during a ceremony on May 10. The awards honor the example and memory of Justin Miller, the Law School’s dean from 1930 to 1934, who implemented values at Duke that remain foundational to the Duke Blueprint to LEAD and to the Duke Law experience.
The LLM Award for Leadership and Community Participation was given to Angela Chien, who was praised by many of her classmates for organizing gatherings that brought the LLM class together.
“Her passion, her care, and her dedication truly reaches beyond borders,” one nominator wrote. “I sincerely believe that many of us met for the first time, became and will remain lifetime friends because of Angela's effort.”
Zachary Ferguson was given the Justin Miller Intellectual Curiosity Award, intended for a student who shows an intellectual hunger and passion for the law and consistently shares this with and encourages it in others.
One nominator noted that Ferguson’s “top-shelf grades are well complemented by his achievements in the Dean's Cup, the Hardt Cup, and the VIS Arbitration competition held in Vienna.”
“He also has contributed mightily to the Duke Law Journal as the senior articles editor,” the nominator wrote. “It is noteworthy that his personal achievements have never stopped him from assisting those around him in their own academic pursuits.”
Many students cited Kimberly Kooles McKenzie’s work as managing editor of DLJ in their nominations of her for the Justin Miller Citizenship Award. Among the statements praising her leadership and collegiality, her classmates said “her enthusiasm for Duke is remarkable and contagious” and “she is a calm, warm presence in the office and makes sure that all of the trains run on time.” Another wrote: “I have never seen anyone able to so smoothly manage a complex organization with such grace under fire.”
Two students — Ennis Coble and Zachary Parsons — received the Justin Miller Integrity Award.
“[Coble] was the internal vice president of the Black Law Students Association and focused mainly on trying to help improve the diversity of Duke Law,” a nominator wrote. “He always took the time to meet with potential students. Many of these potential students that he spoke to are now current students.”
Parsons “has worked extremely hard in organizations such as the Innocence Project, taking on heavy workloads and high leadership positions,” according to a nomination written by a classmate. “He has a dedication to the people of Duke, and embodies those principles that Duke represents when it is at its best.”
The Justin Miller Leadership Award also went to two students, Abigail Frisch and David Yasinovsky.
One nominator wrote about Frisch’s various roles as co-president of the Business Law Society during her 2L year, executive editor on DLJ, and a student leadership role within the burgeoning Duke Law Women group, saying that she consistently does much more than each job requires. “The common thread here, to me, is that when she sees a problem to solve or a thing that needs fixing, she does it,” her classmate wrote. “She never waits to see who else will do it, she doesn't ask whose job it is — Abby just gets it done. And that, to me, is true leadership.”
Nominators wrote about Yasinovsky’s role as president of the Mock Trial Board, his work with the Wrongful Convictions Clinic and as mock trial instructor for Duke TIP and Duke undergraduates, and his mentorship of fellow students.
“David’s choices exemplify the sort of leadership that makes a great lawyer, public servant, and community leader,” wrote one.