The 150th Commencement of the George Washington University Law School was held on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Events took place throughout the weekend and ranged from the Dean's Reception at the Air and Space Museum to the University Commencement at the National Mall and the GW Law Diploma Ceremony.
The Law School Diploma Ceremony, which was held in the Smith Center, honored the Class of 2017. Senior Associate Dean Roger A. Fairfax announced the commencement. Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law Blake D. Morant gave a welcome address to family members, friends, and members of the law school community.
Adam Weiss, President of the GW Law Student Bar Association, presented four awards to faculty and staff. Thomas B. Colby, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and Professor of Law, received the Distinguished Faculty Service Award, which was voted on by the graduating class. The Distinguished Staff Award was received by Nana Antwi. The Michael D. Cooley Memorial Award was presented to graduate Benjamin Chase. Hank R. Molinengo, Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs, was the first to receive the Student Bar Association Distinguished Service Award. Dean Morant presented the Distinguished Adjunct Faculty Service Award to Aram A. Gavoor, for his teaching and record of service to the law school; he has been a member of GW Law's part-time faculty since 2008.
Prior to the ceremony address, Dean Morant conferred emeritus status to Peter Raven-Hansen, Glen Earl Weston Research Professor of Law. Professor Raven-Hansen has been a member of the law school's faculty since 1980.
Grace E. Speights, JD '82, the global leader of Morgan Lewis' Labor and Employment Law Practice, delivered the diZerega Lecture and Commencement Address. Ms. Speights shared her personal story of determination and adversity. Raised by a single parent in South Philadelphia, she faced many challenges growing up, but she understood the value of an education at an early age and was determined to become a strong student.
Her life changed direction in March 1979 when she met Bill Brown, a partner at a major law firm in Philadelphia, at a luncheon. Over lunch, Mr. Brown asked Ms. Speights where she planned to go to college. "When I told Bill Brown the school that I was planning to attend, he looked at me and my mom with dismay," Ms. Speights said. "He then gave my mom his card and asked for our phone number."
Several days later, she received a call from the University of Pennsylvania. During the call, she was told that she would receive a full scholarship that would cover tuition, room, and board. It was due to Mr. Brown's connection to the university that Ms. Speights had heard from Penn.
"Every time that I run into Bill Brown these days, I thank him for the impact that he had on my life," she said. "After all, he was a stranger who had no real reason to care about or invest in me, but he did."
Ms. Speights explained that one will not be able to make it far in the legal profession without the help and support of many people along the way. She hopes that her story inspires the graduates to give back to their communities. "I challenge each of you to be the 'Bill Brown' in someone's life. You each can and should try to make it better for some person or people that you meet at some point in your life," she said. "As a lawyer, you can make a difference in someone's life. Look for opportunities to be a Bill Brown."
Following the address by Ms. Speights, each graduate approached the stage to receive his or her diploma from Dean Morant; more than 800 graduates received JD or LLM degrees.