Under a Mānoa rainbow and the occasional sprinkling of rain, the William S. Richardson School of Law this weekend celebrated a new class of graduates, their jubilant families, their delightful children – some born during the years of law school attendance - and the immense promise they bring to their communities.
“We will be judged by our integrity, what’s in our hearts, and what we do for others,” retired Hawai‘i Supreme Court Justice James Duffy Jr. said in the keynote address he delivered just before the 2013 graduates took the stage at Andrews Amphitheater Sunday afternoon to receive diplomas and certificates.
“We as lawyers need to be healers and peacemakers,” he told the graduates and a cheering crowd of more than 800 friends and family. “Litigate with civility. Don’t confuse being tough with being a jerk.”
The 123 graduates and their families gathered in the Law School’s leafy courtyard in the hours leading up to the late afternoon graduation, snapping photos, posing with children and grandparents, and beginning to wear what by twilight became a vast mountain of lei. Graduates drank a champagne toast, and applauded as 18 keiki – children of the graduates – accepted their own diplomas for the support and love they provided their parents.
The youngest child was just 10 days old.
Marine Capt. Kate Perry, one of the graduates, rocked her three-month-old son Jack in a stroller as she and her husband, Marine Capt. Graham Perry, waited for the ceremony to begin.
“Our baby was born during winter break,” said Perry, a member of the part-time evening program who worked during the day, and attended classes at night. “I’ve been an air defense officer and now I’m trying the legal side.”
Law Dean Avi Soifer took the microphone to praise the class for its humility and for its cohesiveness. Other speakers at the ceremony also noted how exceptional this graduating class was for its support of each other.
Seyed Amin Alemohammad, from Iran, speaking on behalf of the 13 graduating LL.M. foreign-trained students receiving Masters of Law degrees, noted how close the class has grown.
“A level of respect developed into great friendship that will last beyond today,” he said. But he also said friends back home ask what it’s like to live in a beautiful place like Hawai‘i, and he has to tell them he doesn’t know as all he’s really seen is the inside of the Law Library.
Prof. Danielle Conway, the Michael J. Marks Distinguished Professor of Business Law, spoke on behalf of the faculty, encouraging the graduates to become leaders in their communities, and, especially in Hawai‘i, to challenge what she called “a culture of quiet” that works to maintain the status quo.
And she told the newly minted graduates not to fear challenging authority, or shaking cultural mores in order to make change.
“Today is about who you are and what you stand for,” she said. “We’re facing a time of crisis in our community in Hawai‘i. You are the ones who can break through this status quo. And you can successfully challenge the status quo by maintaining the highest levels of dignity. You are the key to the future success of this community.”
As families gathered with balloons and lei for the ceremony, Brian and Susan Ellis of Kailua proudly watched their son Daniel take his place as a graduate, while his 23-month-old daughter, Coral, tried on his mortarboard.
“This is our second son who has graduated from the UH Law School,” said Susan Ellis, a nurse at Queen’s Medical Center. “All three of our sons are attorneys.” (Their eldest, Brian Jr., graduated from Richardson seven years ago. Their middle son, Kevin, is a graduate of Tulane Law School and works as a juvenile rights lawyer in Portland, OR.)
Nearby, Eryn Leong cuddled her 13-month-old daughter Adelyn, surrounded by her parents, Ervin and Lynn Reyes and in-laws, Stirling and Faith Leong.
Close to them Kimo and Kapu Smith sat with granddaughter, Makanani, who was there to see grandpa awarded his degree.
Meanwhile, Spencer Jim On was snapping photos of his friend, Jaime Young, smiling happily with her folks and grandmother. Jim On and Young have been friends since childhood, and were graduating together.
As friends jostled for photos, smiling widely, the words of Elika Otoya Stimpson, who spoke on behalf of the graduating evening program students, rang clear and true.
“We are truly an ‘ohana,” she told the assemblage at Andrews. And then she spoke directly to the faculty, many of whom taught both day and evening classes: “Your willingness to mentor and teach gave me the strength to get through.
“I wouldn’t be standing here today without the evening program. It taught us that dreams of second careers are possible.”
Wayne Wagner had been chosen to speak on behalf of the graduating class, and told the crowd that this was a “bittersweet moment” as they looked ahead to successful careers yet felt a sense of loss for their years in the comforting surroundings of the Law School.
“We are now part of this rich tapestry of the Law School. I’m sure you won’t follow your dreams,” he said, “you will lead them.”
Wagner mentioned the saying that the grass is always looking greener on the other side of the fence, and added: “I suspect that as we look back, we will find that there is nothing greener than the green of the Richardson Law School.
“In real life, success is determined in many more ways than by a grade,” said Wagner. “We take what we do and breathe meaning into it.”
The program included a touching presentation of the class gift to law lecturer Sherry Broder, widow of the late Professor Jon Van Dyke. The class, the last one taught by her renowned husband, commissioned a sculptural rendering of Van Dyke.
As the program ended, graduates circled the grassy amphitheater, held hands as they sang ‘Hawai‘i Aloha,’ and then raised their arms in victory as their friends and families swarmed around them, with laughter, lei, tears, and good wishes.
“Truly,” said one father heading into the crowd to find his daughter, “this is a day to remember.”