On May 19, the Kline School of Law community celebrated the achievements of the classes of 2020 and 2021 in the school’s 12th and 13th commencement ceremonies. The two ceremonies were the first in-person gatherings of the Kline Law community at large in more than a year, and the joy of the reunion was apparent throughout the day.
Dean Dan Filler, in his congratulatory speeches to both classes, asked graduates to pay attention to the little details that mark commencement as a genuine milestone: “Notice the strange feeling of the regalia […], the anticipation of lining up and coming up on stage, and the rush you’ll feel afterward, being fawned over by the people you love and laying eyes on friends and faculty and colleagues you haven’t seen in forever.” Filler then reflected on all the hard work that led to such a momentous day.
The Honorable Frederica Massiah-Jackson, the invited speaker for the Class of 2020, encouraged graduates to remember that their role as lawyers, first and foremost, is to defend the rule of law and the fundamental principles of American democracy.
“What this means to each of you in the Class of 2020,” said Judge Massiah-Jackson, “is that you are a proud group of lawyers who must stand up today and in the future for the principles, convictions and commitment to our profession that we have embraced for more than 200 years.” Massiah-Jackson said that to do this, graduates, whenever they enter the courtroom, must be prepared both substantively, by knowing what the relevant laws are for specific cases, and procedurally, by knowing the procedural rules dictated by the court.
The Honorable C. Darnell Jones II, the invited speaker for the Class of 2021, urged graduates to be the change they want to see in the world and discussed his approach to this challenge, sharing some of his major accomplishments. One of these occurred in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans residents in desperate conditions. After seeing the news footage, Jones and several friends drove to New Orleans with donations they’d gathered. Jones volunteered for the week and afterwards penned a letter to leadership of the Court of Common Pleas asking for prayers, blessings and support—which they provided in abundance. “I think that was one of the most successful trips I’ve ever taken in my lifetime. I will never forget it and, more importantly, the people who we helped have assured us that they will never forget it. I bring that to your attention today because at the heart of it: it’s all about public service.”
Drexel University’s President John Fry presented both Massiah-Jackson and Jones with honorary doctor of laws degrees. Fry also told both classes that he knew they would “take on the solemn responsibility of leadership” as attorneys. “You are entering a challenging world, but it is a world that desperately needs you. It’s a world that cries out for justice…. It needs the many contributions you will make as practitioners and as citizens of your communities. Your role as advocates and legal experts will be pivotal,” concluded Fry.
Law school benefactor Tom Kline observed that the pandemic had exposed the vast inequality in our country and around the world, indicating how much we need dedicated lawyers to uphold the rule of law and ensure justice for the most vulnerable. Kline noted that this is where the 2020 and 2021 graduates come in. “Good luck as you pursue your journey,” Kline concluded, “and as I like to say, make your unmasked mark on the world.”
Robert T. Suite, the student speaker for the Class of 2020, asked his fellow graduates to remember the values they learned at Kline School of Law. He said the values could be summed up as “K.L.I.N.E.,” which stands for the following:
“K” is for knowing yourself. Suite noted that graduates must know themselves and their convictions and that they will find true success in doing so.
“L” is for listening, of which Suite said, “Kline has taught us to listen in different ways. We now know to listen to develop our cultural competence. We listen to understand perspective. We listen to provide a helping hand and we listen to show love. These are the qualities that distinguish us all from the rest.”
“I” is for impact. “Do not minimize the impact you have on this profession. We are all invaluable and it is a privilege for any employer to have us on their team,” said Suite.
“N” is for now. “As we’ve all heard law school and the bar is a marathon not a sprint, and so take this mentality into everything that you do, understanding that the work and stress we endure now is always geared towards a better tomorrow,” said Suite.
“E” is for evolved. “Don’t ever become complacent or content….let’s continue to create knowledge and understanding,” concluded Suite.
Angelys Torres McBride, the student speaker for the Class of 2021, encouraged her fellow graduates to live the life they have always dreamed of, a message that was inscribed on a canvas she was gifted at the start of her law school career. Being fearless in the face of adversity, said McBride, is what being an attorney is all about. “We are zealous advocates for clients for public policy and for justice,” said McBride, who noted that the Class of 2021 is a “class of doers, a community of risk takers. We challenge the status quo.”
Building upon a law school tradition, members of the Student Bar Association recognized faculty and staff for contributions that helped students reach the finish line in their law school journey.
The Class of 2020 recognized:
- Professor David DeMatteo, who received the Dean Roger J. Dennis Distinction in Teaching Award;
- Professor Deborah Gordon, who received the Dean Jennifer L. Rosato Excellence in the Classroom Award;
- Manager of Law School Financial Aid Mary de Rivera, who received the Mary K. McGovern Exceptional Contribution to the Student Experience Award;
- Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Student Belonging Danielle Boardley, who received the Carl “Tobey” Oxholm III Outstanding Contribution to the Law School Community Award; and
- Professor David Cohen, who received the DiveIN Champion of Diversity Award.
The Class of 2021 recognized:
- Professor David Cohen, who received the Dean Roger J. Dennis Distinction in Teaching Award;
- Professor Aimée Kahan, who received the Dean Jennifer L. Rosato Excellence in the Classroom Award;
- Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Student Belonging Danielle Boardley, who received the Mary K. McGovern Exceptional Contribution to the Student Experience Award;
- Professor Veronica J. Finkelstein, who received the Carl “Tobey” Oxholm III Outstanding Contribution to the Law School Community Award; and
- Professor Wendy Greene, who received the DiveIN Champion of Diversity Award.
Both ceremonies ended with a performance of “Forever Young,” which was sung by Keyla Okada during the 2020 ceremony and by Bridget Ann Fassano during the 2021 ceremony.