Yale Law School’s Classes of 2020 and 2021 Celebrate Resilience

graduates in Beinecke plaza
Members of the Classes of 2020 and 2021 lined up in Beinecke Plaza for the procession to Yale’s historic Old Campus.

Graduates from the Classes of 2020 and 2021 enjoyed long-awaited festivities and returned to Yale Law School on Saturday, May 14 to celebrate their achievements with classmates, friends, and family.

The Alumni Ceremony was the highlight of a jubilant day delayed for some students for two years as the pandemic disrupted the traditional in-person Commencement celebrations.

This year, for the first time since 2019, graduates were celebrated with a traditional University ceremony held on Yale’s historic Old Campus. After the University ceremony, Law School graduates proceeded to Yale’s Lanman Center for the Law School’s diploma ceremony.

As in years past, the Lanman Center was transformed for the occasion and hundreds of seats were filled by graduates’ friends and family. Graduates in academic robes walked across a blue-and-white-draped stage, a brass quintet played a processional, and graduates and guests made toasts while gathered for the Law School’s traditional post-ceremony reception in the Courtyard.

Mattatuck Drum Band
The Mattatuck Drum Band led the Classes of 2020 and 2021 in the procession.



In her remarks to the Classes of 2020 and 2021, Dean Heather K. Gerken spoke about how lawyers love to trade stories about their law school experiences. But due to the pandemic, Gerken said, “your stories are unlike those of any class to come before you.”

“Your stories involve sustaining one another in ways that no other law school classes have ever had to,” Gerken said. “You showed that this community endures, regardless of distance or difficulty. These examples continue today, with your class already out in the world doing remarkable things and facing challenges head on with grit and determination.”

Professor of Law Monica C. Bell ’09, chosen by the two classes as the faculty speaker, spoke in personal terms about what she termed “the enduring ethics of the everyday.”

“I want to convey the transformative power of friendship in allowing us to reach past our own limitations and persist through life’s challenges, to encourage us to be worthy people while practicing law,” she said. “If we’ve learned nothing else in the last two years, we know that so much of what we assume is durable could slip away at any moment. But what we will always have — and be proud of — is the time and energy we invest in building loving relationships of many kinds with the people around us,” she said.

Friendship, Bell said, should be uplifted and prioritized despite often being a sacrifice made in favor of other relationships and professional life. “But a life without friendship, and the love it cultivates, is a desolate one,” Bell said, before quoting the work of writer bell hooks on how friendship fits in with a broader commitment to love.

Courtyard reception
A reception in the Courtyard for graduates and their families after the ceremony.

Visiting Clinical Lecturer in Law Dwayne Betts ’16, the day’s guest speaker, invoked Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and spoke to the graduates about the importance of being seen and seeing others in ways big and small.

“There is a sense of not being seen that I believe we share,” said Betts, the Founding Director of Freedom Reads, which establishes libraries in prisons to bring literature to incarcerated people. “If we choose to tell each other some of what we see, we all might be less invisible.”

Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic to the Classes of 2020 and 2021, Gerken reiterated the graduates’ personal and professional resilience and determination.

“Let me tell you that the work you did here — to uplift one another while simultaneously managing to win injunctions and produce pathbreaking scholarship and become leaders in all manner of fields — it’s nothing short of amazing,” she said. “If you did not already believe that you could accomplish absolutely anything, let there now be no doubt.”

Four hundred and sixty-two graduates were honored at Saturday’s ceremony. The two classes comprise 420 J.D., 2 M.S.L, 28 LL.M., 12 J.S.D. degree recipients.