Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, to keynote SUNY Buffalo Law Commencement

Sen. Joe Donnelly

Published May 9, 2014

Sen. Joe Donnelly, the first Democrat to represent Indiana in the U.S. Senate since 1977, will present the keynote address for SUNY Buffalo Law School’s 125th Commencement exercises.

The ceremony will be held May 17 at 1 p.m. at the Center for Arts, on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.

Donnelly, a Long Island native, holds both bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Notre Dame. Before entering national politics, he practiced law with the South Bend, Ind., firm Nemeth, Feeney and Masters, and ran a small business. Elected from Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, he served three terms in the House of Representatives before his election to the Senate in 2012, succeeding Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.

Political pundits called Donnelly an “accidental senator” after his 5-point victory on Election Day 2012. His Tea Party-backed opponent, Richard Mourdock, saw his campaign implode in the final weeks after he made controversial comments about abortion and rape.

“We are thrilled that Sen. Donnelly was able to join us in May to celebrate this special day with our graduates and their families,” said SUNY Buffalo Law School Dean Makau W. Mutua.

A member of the moderate Blue Dog coalition in the House, Donnelly has continued to align himself with moderates in the Senate, saying he will be “an independent voice for Indiana families.”

Donnelly campaigned as a socially conservative Democrat, expressing opposition to abortion rights and support for immigration reform. He recently changed his position and now supports same-sex marriage. Despite past support by the National Rifle Association, he has said he is “open” to gun control measures.

Vikki L. Pryor ’78

Other highlights of the Commencement exercises will include the presentation of the Dean’s Medal to Vikki L. Pryor ’78 and the Ken Joyce Medal for Excellence in Teaching Award to Hon. Thomas P. “Tim” Franczyk.

Pryor is principal and innovator at Change Create Transform, an operations, technology and business development company based in New York City. She was the first African-American woman to head a life insurance company in the United States, serving as president and CEO of SBLI USA for 11 years. She has also served as CEO of the American Red Cross in Greater New York, and has held senior-level positions with Allstate Life Insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Oxford Health. She is a member of SUNY Buffalo Law School’s Dean’s Advisory Council and a recipient of the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Hon. Thomas P. “Tim” Franczyk

The Dean’s Medal is given annually to an individual who is distinguished by his or her commitment to justice and the rule of law.

Franczyk has served as an Erie County Court judge since 2008 and is known both for his knowledge of the law and for his evenhanded courtroom management. He also has been extremely generous with his time and energy in shepherding the next generation of lawyers through SUNY Buffalo Law School. With attorney Christopher J. O’Brien, he co-directs the Law School’s trial advocacy programs, investing innumerable hours in coaching student mock trial teams and helping students learn the practical skills they will need in the courtroom. Judge Franczyk also is an adjunct member of the Law School faculty, teaching courses that include Evidence and Trial Advocacy.

The teaching award, named after SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus Ken Joyce, a renowned teacher and specialist in tax law, honors teaching excellence and service among SUNY Buffalo Law School’s extensive adjunct faculty.