The UDC Law class of 2022 received their hoods during the UDC Law Hooding Ceremony at the UDC Theater of the Arts on Friday, May 13, symbolizing the completion of their J.D. program, before participating in the University’s commencement program on Saturday. Friday’s program included speeches from student representatives, the presentation of student awards, a keynote speech by CEO of ART@WAR Entertainment James McMillan and an invocation and benediction from Reverend Thomas L. Bowen. Nancy Shia, a graduate of the first class of Antioch School of Law, was in attendance as an honored guest to mark the 50th anniversary of UDC Law.
In a surprise announcement, evening program representative DeMarcus Freeman and fellow graduate Cornelius Pope presented a $6,700 gift to the class of 2023 on behalf of the class of 2022. Freeman said the gift “represents a hundred-dollar commitment from each of the graduates” to offset some of the cost of bar preparation for next year’s class. Each member of the class of 2022 has been awarded free bar preparation funding, and many of them have received stipends that will help them dedicate more time to bar study. These measures prompted the class to pay it forward to the class of 2023 with their $6,700 gift.
Freeman playfully challenged the class of 2023. “We want to see what you guys got,” he said before taking his seat.
McMillan later surprised the audience again by matching the gift for a total of $13,400 toward bar expenses for next year’s class. “There’s a saying ‘match the frequency of the reality that you want, and you cannot help but get that reality,’” McMillan began. “I don’t think I could be more impressed with the class of 2022. I’m inspired by your courage, fortitude and Firebird spirit,” he added before announcing he would “match [the class of 2022’s] energy by matching [their class] gift.”
In his keynote address, McMillan talked about overcoming his own legal struggles to go on to become an attorney. He said, “I was convicted,” describing it as “a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense.” Then he added that conviction is also “a firmly held belief or opinion,” explaining that, “It was a legal conviction that manifested itself into the personal conviction that I needed to make the vision for myself as a lawyer a reality.”
Speakers from the graduating class included Student Bar Association (SBA) President Jamal B. Bailey, SBA Vice President and day program representative Niara Houston and Freeman.
Bailey’s remarks centered on the resilience of this class, reflecting on the loss of Dr. Edgar S. Cahn earlier this spring, the impact of COVID-19 and their activism in the summer of 2020 following the George Floyd murder.
Houston echoed some of the same challenges and how they will impact lives for years to come. “Somewhere down the line,” Houston said, “we will tell our children how we sat in class while some of those defining moments happened around us.”
Houston also called the moment “surreal” and celebrated the first-generation law graduates among the class of 67 students. “For us first-generation grads,” she said, “despite every statistic, odd, voice or weapon formed against us – we proceeded with our dream, and that is worth celebrating.”
Freeman spoke about the nobility and imperfection of the law and the ways in which UDC Law prepares students to speak up for injustice and retain their idealism. “I hope that we all remember that experience is more valuable than eloquence,” he said, “that we do not always have to equate logic with strength and emotion with weakness,” adding, “life is not simple; the grace is in the grey area.”
Both student- and faculty-selected awards were presented at the ceremony, presented by Houston, Associate Dean of Clinical and Experiential Programs Lindsay M. Harris and Dean Renée M. Hutchins.
The first three awards – the Judge Pryor Legacy Award, Edgar Cahn Community Service Award and Unsung Hero Award – were chosen by the graduating class.
Akeem Earle took home the Judge Pryor Legacy Award, which recognizes a student who demonstrates academic excellence, provides service to the community and student body and makes a strong commitment to public service.
Morgan C. Peterson received the Edgar Cahn Community Service Award. The Cahn award is presented to a student who demonstrates exemplary commitment to community service through outstanding leadership in the community.
The Unsung Hero Award acknowledges that not all excellence comes with a title by recognizing a student who has worked tirelessly to improve the law school and community but does not hold an SBA leadership position. The recipient of the Unsung Hero Award never seeks and rarely receives recognition for their kindness. The 2022 recipient was Tatyana Hopkins.
Associate Dean Harris presented the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Awards to students whose clinical work was outstanding or notable. Nathan Jones was the CLEA Outstanding Externship Student Awardee for his excellence in fieldwork and thoughtful, self-reflective participation in the externship seminar. Jennifer Araujo earned the CLEA Outstanding Clinical Student Award, which recognized a graduate who exhibits excellence in clinical fieldwork and thoughtful participation in the Clinical Program.
A new award recognizing an outstanding clinical team went to a quartet of students who worked in the Legislation and Civil Rights Clinic with the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) to “address the critical impacts of climate change on [gender-based violence] survivors,” according to a DV LEAP spokesperson. The students who received this award were Sophia Balemian-Spencer, Azuree Bowman, Francesca Bryce and Sarah Buskirk.
Dean Hutchins then presented the annual Dean’s Cup Awards for service, scholarship and practice. Freeman received the service award; Darby Hickey earned the scholarship cup and Delali Dagadu took home the award for practice.
Finally, Tatyana Hopkins received the Semsker Prize for Civil Rights Law, which is given to a high-performing graduate of modest means who intends to work in civil rights law and includes a $1,000 cash prize.