Speaking at Harvard Law School’s 2022 Class Day ceremonies on Wednesday, May 25, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch ’81, J.D. ’84, said that justice—the fight for freedom—is something each generation must defend. She reminded the audience that exactly two years ago to the day, George Floyd had “lost his life under the knee of a uniformed Minneapolis police officer. It was a shocking crime,” she said, “a senseless tragedy. It did not have to happen. And for those of us who have worked on police reform over the years it stood as a literal rebuke to all of our efforts.” Lynch, who has spent her career defending civil rights, no doubt felt the rebuke viscerally: she was a member of the trial team whose work in the late 1990s led to the conviction of New York City police officers for the assault, torture, and rape of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. “I know that many of us struggle to make sense of a legal system where the ultimate symbol of protection to so many,” she said, “is also an inherent symbol of fear to so many others.” A former federal prosecutor who became the first black woman to lead the Department of Justice, from 2015 to 2017, Lynch described the “equally shocking and unnecessary deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery” as “a choice…not to deal with the original sin: the systemic racism woven into the fabric of our society.” “But something happened” after George Floyd’s death, she continued. “As people marched and spoke, they were joined by a broad swath of humanity, both in this country and around the world. We actually came together in an epiphany of understanding and empathy that began to fuel what we hoped was systemic change. And we saw the possibility of change that recognized the costs of pernicious racism, not just to its immediate victims, but to all of us. And we began to explore…why we continue to let a distinction without a difference repeatedly tear us apart.”
Harvard Law School’s 2015 Class Day ceremony featured speeches by Gabrielle Giffords, former U.S. Representative from Arizona, and her husband Mark Kelly, a Navy pilot and NASA astronaut, and Harvard Law School Professor Jon Hanson, winner of the 2015 Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence. A number of Harvard Law students from the Class of ’15 received special awards for their outstanding leadership, citizenship, compassion and dedication to their studies and the profession.
Four years ago, then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, was shot in the head and gravely wounded by a gunman in a mass shooting outside a Tucson supermarket. Most people who suffer such an injury don’t survive, as her husband, Mark Kelly, pointed out. But Giffords fought back. On Wednesday, taking the podium to a standing ovation at Class Day exercises for Harvard Law School, she urged the students to action.
This year, more than 750 students will receive degrees from Harvard Law School. Each brought unique experiences to law school and all have tailored their academic careers while at HLS to explore their individual interests. As they prepare to graduate, several members of the Harvard Law School Class of 2015 reflect on the interests they brought to law school and the experiences they will take from their time at Harvard Law.
This year’s Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award was presented to Chad Baker, honored for demonstrating an extraordinary commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services to disadvantaged communities. Baker contributed over 2000 pro bono hours working with the Tenant Advocacy Project, the Prison Legal Assistance Project, and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.