photo of Aviva speaking at a podium at the commencment ceremony.

No ordinary Commencement

"This is no ordinary time."

The words of Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted by Dean Aviva Abramovsky, were clearly apt for UB School of Law’s 132nd Commencement. But for the Class of 2021, whose tenure at the law school was marked by a time of pandemic and significant challenges, Commencement was an extraordinary moment—a day to celebrate all the potential they’ll bring to a world in need of advocates for justice.

Unlike last year’s virtual ceremony, the 2021 festivities were held in person, albeit in modified form—under a vast tent on the North Campus, with everyone wearing masks and keeping a healthy distance. But the beautiful May 16 weather, amid the waning days of the pandemic, lent a tone of optimistic expectation to the event, which honored nine master of laws students, 139 J.D. candidates and the law school’s first three BA in law graduates.

“It’s still a beautiful moment,” Dean Abramovsky said. “It is still your moment of celebration, individually and as the Class of 2021.

“You are no ordinary class.  You have done the extraordinary. Through a pandemic, social distancing, economic tumult, seismic technological changes, challenges no one would have expected to face in our lifetime, I have witnessed your resilience, witnessed your courage, and yes, watched you overcome extraordinary challenges with purpose and passion—purpose in your resolve, passion in your mission.

Our keynote speaker, Hon. Shirley Troutman of the NYS Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

Our keynote speaker, Hon. Shirley Troutman of the NYS Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

“If we’ve all learned one thing this past year,” the dean said, “it’s that we certainly cannot tell what may come from one day to the next. But we can remain focused on what is needed for our clients, our community and our country—to do the work. And that, my Class of 2021, is your purpose.”

The afternoon’s keynote speaker, Justice Shirley Troutman of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department, spoke of two legal icons who have inspired her: U.S. Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Both of them understood that many Americans feel marginalized, their voices silenced or ignored by those in power,” she said. “As lawyers, both of them used the power of advocacy to ensure that the phrase ‘equal justice under the law’ applied to all persons, regardless of their race or gender. They stepped in to give a voice to the voiceless.”

Each, she said, rose to the highest levels of the legal system despite societal obstacles: Marshall because of his race, Ginsburg because of her gender.

“These two icons of the legal profession used the law as an instrument for the advancement of justice, for positive change in the world,” Justice Troutman said. “And now I encourage you to use the law as a tool to transform the world. Each of you must ask what action you can take to bring about a meaningful response to injustice.”

Law Alumni Association President Anne E. Joynt ’05 reminded the graduates that “your fellow students played a significant role in helping you overcome adversity, and in sharing your victories,” and encouraged them to stay in touch. “One of the best things about our profession,” she said, “is the collegiality that binds even the fiercest opponents, and allows us to meet in the courtroom and give our all as zealous advocates, but to walk off respectfully as colleagues and friends. Please do not hesitate to turn to your fellow UB Law alumni if you ever need help, and to step forward to give it when you are able.”

Student speaker Aldiama Anthony cited “the four P’s”—passion, possibility, provision and partnership—that led the class to this day. “Class of 2021, these past three years have taught us that we all have different passions, gifts and natural skills that will aid us in walking out our purpose,” she said. “I urge you to be unafraid to walk in that purpose.”

Honors were presented to Professor Christine Bartholomew, who received the Faculty of the Year Award, and Dawn Skopinski, externship administrator and associate director of The Advocacy Institute, who received the Staff of the Year Award.

Earlier in the day, the Class of 2021’s Student Awards Convocation was broadcast on Facebook. The top student awards were announced at the Commencement Ceremony including the Max Koren Award presented to Lucas J. Fromen; the John N. Bennett Achievement Award presented to Elena M.  Spence; and the Dale S. Margulis Award presented to Rina M. Hernández.