Commencement Week at RWU Law always begins the Monday before commencement at the Glen Manor House.
We had a beautiful night for the festivities as the Class of 2016 gathered on May 9, 2016 to celebrate with faculty and staff. An awards ceremony kicked off the evening: Law Review Editor-in-Chief (Casey Charkowick), President of the Moot Court Board (Mikela Almeida), SBA President (Kyla Pecchia), Dean’s Academic Achievement Award (Jennifer Iarocci), Public Interest Award (Olabisi Maroofat Ashabi Davies), Pro Bono Collaborative Award (Rita Nerney and Judah Rome), Kathleen Birt Memorial Dispute Resolution Prize (Ashley Kocian), Clinical Legal Education Association Award (Kasey Doeing), Marine Affairs Achievement Award (John Ryan-Henry), and Valedictorian (Judah Rome). We also recognized all those graduates (more than half of the class) who performed 100 or more hours of pro bono service as well as the graduating members of the Honors Program.
The Student Bar Association concluded the awards ceremony by naming the Staff Member of the Year (Margie Caranci), Adjunct Faculty Member of the Year (Weisberger Visiting Professor David Coombs), and Full-Time Faculty Member of the Year (John Chung).
The rest of the evening was a celebratory cocktail party (with great food) in a breathtaking setting on a beautiful spring night.
Thursday night at President Farish’s home, board members, faculty, staff, and friends gathered to honor, in an informal setting, three of our Honorary Degree recipients: Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian (retired) of the Rhode Island Family Court; Judge Michael Silverstein of the Rhode Island Superior Court; and President and Dean Emeritus, Professor Anthony Santoro. It was another beautiful evening, and it was a great opportunity to meet and learn more about these three remarkable leaders.
The Honorable Netti Vogel of the Rhode Island Superior Court and a member of the RWU Law Board of Directors introduced Judge Bedrosian, and she reminded the crowd that the Judge was a true pioneer – the first woman to serve on the Family Court and the first to be its Chief. Judge Bedrosian was humble but proud. She thanked many people who helped her, and she noted that while gains had been made in gender equality in the legal profession, important work remained to be done.
The Honorable William E. Smith, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, Chair of the RWU Law Board of Directors, University Trustee, and adjunct faculty member introduced Judge Silverstein, joking that while he was exceptional, he “was no Haigi Bedrosian.” He then went on to describe Judge Silverstein’s two remarkable careers – first as a practicing lawyer and next as a highly-respected judge. Judge Silverstein’s remarks were a testament to Judge Smith’s introduction. Judge Silverstein talked about his work as a lawyer, his work as a judge, and his work as a University Trustee who supported the creation of RWU Law in 1993. He expressed his pride in what RWU Law has become, and he thanked RWU Law and Roger Williams University for the honorary degree.
The final honoree (commencement speaker Thomas E. Perez, the United States Secretary of Labor, was not able to attend Thursday’s event) is a founding father of RWU Law – Anthony Santoro. He conducted the feasibility study that concluded a law school in Rhode Island could thrive, he became the first Dean at RWU Law, he became the President of the University, and all the while, he has been an effective and popular teacher of Taxation, Business Organizations, and related subjects. Professor Bruce Kogan, a founding member of the RWU Law faculty and himself twice Dean at RWU Law, reminded the crowd of Professor Santoro’s leadership role at several law schools and an interview with Professor Santoro in the 1970s, during which Santoro continuously “chain smoked.” The mutual respect and affection of Professors Kogan and Santoro was palpable.
The next day was gray but dry for Commencement. It was our privilege to award an honorary degree to and hear the commencement speech delivered by Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, a gifted orator. He told the graduates it was important to take risks and that wisdom comes from failure. He reminded them that life is short and they should live with the “fierce urgency of now." And he implored them, in closing, to join the “orchestra of opportunity to serve.”
Commencement for the Class of 2016 was bittersweet because a member of the class, Michael Patrick McNulty, died suddenly just as he was to begin his third year of law school. Michael’s presence was felt and his memory was invoked throughout the ceremony. Valedictorian Judah Rome talked about Michael and his generosity. There was a seat set aside for Michael among his classmates – a seat that was adorned by one of his many outlandishly colored and patterned ties. And Michael’s family was present. His wife, Tara, walked across the stage to accept Michael’s diploma (posthumously) from President Farish.
The Class of 2016 was close-knit and mutually supportive. Their individual stories are remarkable, and they are poised to do great things. But what I will remember most about them, and what was on display as they celebrated their accomplishments, was their connection to each other. That was a truly wonderful thing to celebrate.