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Thursday, November 18, 2021
Four Law School Alumni Receive Award of Merit
Yale Law School presented the Award of Merit to four esteemed alumni — Stacey Abrams ’99, Lani Guinier ’74, William E. Kennard ’81, and Robert C. Post ’77 — on Nov. 17, 2021. This year’s celebration recognized the 2020 and 2021 honorees, individuals who fully embody the spirit of outstanding leadership and have had a positive impact in law and beyond.
Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law Heather K. Gerken introduced the honorees during the virtual commemoration.
She opened the evening acknowledging the joy of the Law School’s return to in-person learning and of celebrating the recipients.
“These individuals have inspired us to rethink our approach to educating the next generation of leaders,” Gerken said. “They are all examples of what effective and thoughtful leadership looks like in the world. The Yale Law School community takes enormous pride in the impact that each and every one of them has had in the world and we are just humbled by the notion that their efforts are an extension of this community.”
The annual awards program typically takes place during Yale Law School’s Alumni Weekend. However, the in-person event was postponed in 2020 and held virtually this year in light of ongoing COVID-19 safety measures.
2021 Award of Merit Recipients
Stacey Abrams ’99
Founder of Fair Fight Action;
Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, 2011–2017
Stacey Abrams ’99 shared her leadership lessons and spoke of ambition in her remarks accepting the Award of Merit.
“When you’re willing to speak your ambition aloud, you give it life, you give it breath and you give it more possibility. So, embrace your ambition and never mistake self-effacement for humility.” She closed with a reminder: “To those of you who are just starting out or who are trying to figure out what comes next…every day you try [those lessons], every day you try something new, every day you strive, you are a person of merit and you are someone to celebrate.”
Abrams is a political leader, voting rights activist, and New York Times bestselling author. After serving for 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, seven as Democratic Leader, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia in 2018, winning at the time more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history.
After the 2018 election, Abrams launched Fair Fight Action to ensure every American has a voice in the nation’s election system through programs such as Fair Fight 2020, an initiative to fund and train voter protection teams in 20 battleground states. Abrams has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues at state and national levels. In 2019, she launched Fair Count — to ensure the accuracy of the 2020 Census and greater participation in civic engagement — and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South.
Lani Guinier ’74
Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, Emerita, Harvard Law School;
Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1988-1998
Guinier’s award was accepted on her behalf by her son, Nikolas Bowie. Bowie illustrated Guinier’s long civil rights career and described her route to leadership as “a pathway to building community with other people” inspired by her pursuit of justice and democracy.
He defined Guinier’s ideas as ahead of their time. “But instead of seeing those ideas merely as a way in which she could achieve recognition or power…she saw those ideas as transformative for achieving justice by building communities to support them and to support one another,” he said.
Lani Guinier ’74 is the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, Emerita at Harvard Law School, where she became the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship. Before her Harvard appointment, she was a tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Guinier worked in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and then headed the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1980s.
Guinier has published many scholarly articles and books that are accessible for a general audience, including The Tyranny of the Majority (1994); Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change (1997) (with co-authors Michelle Fine and Jane Balin); Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice (1998); The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy (2002) (co-authored with Gerald Torres ’77). In addition, Guinier has written The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015).
2020 Award of Merit Recipients
William E. Kennard ’81
Co-Founder, Astra Capital Management;
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, 2009–2013;
Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, 1997–2001
William E. Kennard ’81, Co-Founder and Chair of Velocitas Partners, LLC, said he was humbled by the award and reflected on his role in public service that led to drastically increased internet accessibility for underserved communities.
“My leadership was inspired by my public service, being able to contribute to changing people’s lives in profound ways,” he said. “But I also found that the most profound change I experienced was the change in me. As David McCullough has said so eloquently, ‘The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.’”
Before founding Velocitas Partners, an asset management firm, Kennard was U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. Appointed by President Obama in November 2009, he promoted transatlantic trade and investment and worked to eliminate regulatory barriers to commerce. Prior to his appointment as U.S. Ambassador, he was managing director of the global private equity firm, the Carlyle Group, where he led investments in the telecommunications and media sectors. Kennard also served as General Counsel and later as Chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Kennard is chair of the board of AT&T, Inc. and serves on the boards of Ford Motor Company and MetLife, Inc. He also is a director and the treasurer of the International African American Museum.
Robert C. Post ’77
Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School;
16th Dean of Yale Law School, 2009–2017
Former Dean of the Law School and Sterling Professor of Law Robert C. Post ’77 expressed gratitude to be included in the company of the other Award of Merit recipients, and spoke of leadership requiring two qualities. “First, leaders must be possessed of a compelling and powerful vision of the future,” he said. “And second, leaders must learn to encourage those around them to share in that vision.” Post went on to emphasize the necessity for humility and a “genuine willingness to modify one’s vision, as one takes in the lives and experiences of others.”
Post served as the School’s dean from 2009 until 2017. Before coming to Yale, he taught at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. He is a member of the American Law Institute and a fellow of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
A legal historian and an expert in constitutional law, Post has written and edited numerous publications, including Citizens Divided: A Constitutional Theory of Campaign Finance Reform (2014), introduced as the Tanner Lectures at Harvard in 2013; Democracy, Expertise, Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Jurisprudence for the Modern State (2012), initially delivered as the Rosenthal Lectures at Northwestern University; Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law (2001), first presented as the Brennan Lectures at Berkeley; and For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom (with Matthew M. Finkin, 2009), now the standard reference regarding academic freedom in the United States.
For more than 60 years, the Yale Law School Association has honored distinguished graduates and faculty that have made profound and meaningful contributions to public service and the legal profession with the Award of Merit. Past recipients include Cyrus R. Vance ’42, Margaret H. Marshall ’76, Eleanor Holmes Norton ’64, Hillary Rodham Clinton ’73, Gerald R. Ford ’41, and other notable alumni.