Congratulations to the Class of 2015
"You have a capacity to make a difference, to make this world... a more just place. For more than a hundred years the women and men of Georgetown Law have pursued many different paths, but because of their idealism, their commitment, and their ability to use the law skillfully and meaningfully they have made contributions to our society of the most fundamental importance," Dean William M. Treanor told more than 1,100 students (679 J.D.’s and 446 LL.M.’s) who received diplomas at the Law Center’s 143rd Commencement, held on Sunday, May 17. "And today, you join the ranks of Georgetown Law graduates."
In his commencement address, Bright reminded students to provide equal justice to all and to avoid arrogance, maintain humility and recognize the dignity in their future clients.
“No matter what kind of law you practice, you have a responsibility to see that the legal system works for everyone,” said Bright, who has taught at Georgetown Law and is currently a visiting lecturer in law at Yale. “As lawyers, you will become the trustees of the legal system; your challenge is to make it into a system of justice for all.”
“[L]egal protections do not mean a thing if people do not have lawyers or they get lawyers who do not assert their rights,” said Bright, who has twice argued and won racial discrimination cases before the United States Supreme Court, Snyder v. Louisiana and Amadeo v. Zant. “Tragically, having a lawyer is no guarantee that one accused of a crime will receive the protections of the Constitution.”
Bright told the Class of 2015 that they must “not let the pursuit of wealth completely obliterate the pursuit of justice,” and should defend the homeless, the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled and the destitute. “Take time with your clients. Listen to them. Recognize their dignity.”
Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, a criminal law specialist, scholar, judge and litigator who worked for over 18 years as Guatemala’s attorney general, also received an honorary doctor of laws degree. She is currently serving a joint appointment with both the Law Center and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
“This is a very special moment in your lives,” said Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, addressing the graduates. “It is my sincere hope that the support of this university, which you will always call home, the friendships that you have forged here, the knowledge you have earned here will provide you with the resources for each of the steps along your journey.”
Treanor invoked the Law Center’s tradition of service when he concluded the ceremony, urging students to “be what Georgetown educates all its graduates to be: women and men for others.”
Honorary Degree Recipients
Stephen B. Bright is president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, where he served as director from 1982 to 2005. He has taught at Georgetown Law and currently teaches at Yale Law School. His litigation, teaching and writing subjects include capital punishment, legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, conditions and practices in prisons and jails, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, judicial independence and sentencing. He has tried cases, including capital cases, before juries and argued cases before state and federal appellate courts. He has twice argued and won cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, both involving racial discrimination in the composition of the juries.
Bright has testified before committees of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In addition to Yale and Georgetown, he has taught at Harvard, Emory, Georgia and Tennessee. He received the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s Kutak-Dodds Prize in 1992 and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty in 1991. The Fulton Daily Law Report, Georgia’s legal newspaper, named him “Newsmaker of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to creating a public defender system in Georgia.
Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey was the first woman to hold the position of attorney general of Guatemala. She assumed this role in 2010 and pursued cases against organized criminals and perpetrators of human rights abuses. A criminal law specialist, scholar, judge and litigator, she has worked for over eighteen years to strengthen the justice system in Guatemala. She earned her doctorate in human rights and criminal law, served as a judge and was the national consultant to the UN Mission in Guatemala. In 1994, she founded the Institute for Comparative Criminal Studies of Guatemala, a human rights organization that promotes restorative justice and protects the rights of marginalized and discriminated groups during criminal proceedings.
Paz y Paz Bailey is currently at Georgetown University for one year as a distinguished scholar in residence, with a joint appointment between the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Georgetown University Law Center. In 2012, Forbes named her one of the “five most powerful women changing the world.” She received the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award in 2013.