YLS 2017 Commencement—Students Implored to Bring Justice to Those in Need—PHOTOS, VIDEO, SPEECHES


More than 200 graduates of Yale Law School participated in commencement ceremonies on Monday afternoon at the William K. Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, surrounded by friends, family, and the Law School faculty.

In his remarks to the graduating class, Dean Robert C. Post ’77 spoke of the tumultuous partisan times we live in and the graduates’ responsibility to create a new kind of politics, one that “respects disagreement, that learns from public dialogue, that embraces knowledge, and that affirms the rule of law.”

Post spoke of how a new vision of politics requires a vibrant community. “It is only through inhabiting such a vision that we can master the terrors of police violence, or global warming, or international instability, or economic collapse, or economic inequality,” he said. 

After Dean Post’s remarks, he presented the official maces of Yale Law School to Heather Gerken, who will become dean on July 1. The first mace, which represents authority over the JD population of the School, is called The Walking Stick Mace; the second mace, which represents authority over the graduate students pursuing advanced studies, is a staff surmounted by an owl engaged in deep study.

Gerken acknowledged Post’s service to Yale Law School during the eight years of his deanship. “[Post] cherished the glories of Yale Law School while preparing us for the future,” she said.

Gerken went on to say that she likes that the Law School maces are different than the ones the University has. They are “not fit for a king—they are walking sticks,” she commented. “They are meant to slip into the hands of someone who works, not someone who rules.”


John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Congressman from Georgia, also addressed the students. Earlier in the day, Lewis received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Yale University. He spoke about his childhood and his early aspirations to be a minister. He said that he used to preach to his family’s chickens. The chickens, Lewis said, never said Amen, but they listened better than his colleagues in Congress.

As he was growing up, he noticed the inequalities in the world, but his parents told him not to get in the way and not to get in trouble.

“But the actions of Rosa Parks and the words of Martin Luther King inspired me to get in the way. To get into trouble,” Lewis said about his actions during the civil rights movement.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair,” continued Lewis, “you have a moral obligation to say something or do something.” Lewis implored the graduates to be bold and brave and “bring justice to those who need it.”

Anne Alstott ’87, Jacquin D. Bierman Professor in Taxation, spoke to the graduates about the impact and privilege of being trained as lawyers. 

Alstott told a story of medieval English Law and the first legal representatives. Drawing a parallel to today’s graduates, she said “In the modern world, law is the language of power—not only in the courtroom but in the halls of Congress, in state capitals, and in the offices of government agencies.”

Alstott also spoke of how the graduates have already—and will continue to—use the language of law to serve social justice.

“We can—and we will—differ in our principled judgments about the use of state power,” she said. “Some of you think that the state should do more to address economic inequality, to improve access to health care, and to fight discrimination. Some of you, by contrast, worry that state power is too often misused.”

Whatever one’s political beliefs, Alstott said, lawyers invoke the power of law for the best reasons. Alstott encouraged all to “speak the truth on behalf of others” in their future lives and careers.

Two hundred and forty-one degree candidates were honored at the ceremonies Monday, including 213 JDs, 24 LLMs, 4 JSDs, and 4 Ph.D.s in Law.