UC Hastings Celebrates In-Person Commencement, Welcomes Bryan Stevenson as Keynote Speaker

Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, challenged graduates to be proximate to people who need their help.

UC Hastings Law celebrated its 141st Commencement ceremony on May 22, awarding degrees to around 400 students at the Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco.

The mood was jubilant as students and their families showed up for an in-person graduation ceremony for the first time in two years. “It’s really great to see you in person,” said UC Hastings Chancellor & Dean David Faigman as he opened the ceremony.

Bryan Stevenson, noted human rights lawyer, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and author of the book Just Mercy, gave the keynote address and challenged the newly-minted graduates to put their legal talents to good use.

“I want to challenge you to be people who change the world, to be people who increase the justice quotient in our society. We desperately need you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you go into private practice, or you work in the public interest, all of you will have an opportunity to make a contribution that I think is important.”

Stevenson also received an honorary law degree from UC Hastings.

Faigman recognized students who completed pro bono service during law school and noted that 76 graduates provided more than 8,000 hours of free legal help.

Valedictorian Jenny Bagger, who will clerk for the U.S. District Court after graduation, talked about in-person learning interrupted by the pandemic, before it resumed, “What became clearest to me during our time at Hastings is the importance of community. What I value most about this community is the passion, perseverance, and grit that defines Hastings’ students, and the support and encouragement the Hastings’ faculty provides.”

She added, “I urge my fellow graduates to use our education and training to feed our curiosity, ponder and resolve cutting-edge legal problems, and ultimately to do good and pursue justice however we can.”

She was joined by other speakers who were chosen by the graduating class:  Maryna Tsapok, a Fulbright Scholar who earned her LLM; Nikayla Johnson, a California Scholar and LEOP member, Richard Lee and Mecole Tate, both LEOP students. All of the student speakers received thunderous applause and standing ovations.

“Most lawyers are smart,” said Lee. “But what makes a lawyer truly great is another thing, and I believe all of us here have that. It’s to have the relentless spirit to fight for others. That’s what makes the best lawyers and the best leaders.”

Albert Zecher, a member of the UC Hastings Board of Directors, addressed the students and welcomed them into the family of Hastings’ alumni, saying, “Together we can continue to make a difference for the good of our society.” In his closing remarks, Professor Matt Coles remarked on the troubled state of the planet and on the kindness and generosity he saw among students during the pandemic, “With the world in the hands of people who have such a love of humanity, with the world in your hands, we’re going to be all right.”

Stevenson also left students with a sense of optimism and hope for the future, “I am proud to be graduating with your class, to be part of your community because I have great expectations that I know you will fulfill, as we collectively change the world and increase the justice quotient and make a difference in the lives of people who desperately need it.”