Under sunny skies and outdoors for the first time on UMass Dartmouth’s Cressy Field, 146 UMass Law students became lawyers at the Commencement Ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
The first joint ceremony was one of joy, excitement, and pride as the UMass Law graduates received their degrees before family, friends, faculty, and staff who applauded, cheered, and waved as they processed down the field to the rousing music of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Following the transition to remote learning last March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the in-person graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 was postponed. While this year’s ceremony celebrated the achievements of both classes in earning their law degrees, it was especially meaningful for these graduates who completed their legal education remotely and under challenging and unprecedented circumstances.
Advocates and activists
“We’re so excited and grateful to have the opportunity to be with you in person after so many months of uncertainty and hardship and, let’s face it, too many Zoom calls. Thank you for sticking with it, for pushing through, rising above, and overcoming every obstacle that stood between you and this moment,” said Interim Chancellor Mark Fuller.
He commended the students for completing their studies, applying real-world experience in the practice of law through thousands of hours of pro bono work, and for being “advocates and activists.” After citing UMass’s Law’s many state and national rankings, including one of the fastest-growing and best value law schools in the U.S., Chancellor Fuller urged the graduates to pay it forward by remaining connected to the law school and taking the time to mentor future UMass Law students.
“You helped us think, stretch, adapt, and grow in so many ways. You’ve made us better. I hope we did the same for you,” he added.
Champions of justice
UMass Law Dean Eric Mitnick recalled the challenges students faced as in-person classes abruptly transitioned to remote learning during spring break of 2020. “But know that, having survived something truly challenging, you will forever have the resilience and the strength that comes only from enduring that which is almost incomprehensively difficult,” he said.
He spoke of the meaning of the degree the law students would soon receive. “In about an hour, you will walk out of this stadium having received a Juris Doctor degree. And in that moment, you will have joined one of the most sacred traditions our nation has to offer: the tradition of serving the public as a champion of justice. And, I can’t think of a time when there was a greater need for your service.
“Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer,” he continued. “Nelson Mandela was a lawyer. Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer. You will, within the hour, be a lawyer. And justice, justice, you shall pursue.”
Justice for all
Kristine C. Goodwin, JD ’20 of Boston, spoke to her classmates who completed law school in a way that was previously unimaginable during the escalation of a pandemic while facing uncertainty about completing their requirements and taking the bar exam. (The exam was moved from the end of July to October. The Class of 2020 took the exam remotely and the Class of 2021 will do the same at the end of this month.)
“The reality is that we attended law school to pursue justice, but we successfully completed law school by practicing justice. Justice is not some distant ideal to be sought, rather it is the totality of the ways in which we treat one another every day,” Goodwin said.
“When I was deciding which law school to attend, my younger sister told me to go to the school I believed wanted me to succeed—that would support me when things were hard, because they would definitely be hard! By choosing UMass Law, we chose right. Not only because we had great classmates, but also because of the competent, dedicated faculty, staff, and administration.”
Speaking to the Class of 2021, whose entire 3L year was conducted remotely, Kevin Joseph Burchill, JD ’21 of West Tisbury, MA commended his classmates for their achievement. “We have endured alone, and at six feet. We have pursued our dreams amidst insurmountable odds. And, despite it all, we find ourselves here today.”
He urged his classmates to follow UMass Law’s ethos: Pursue Justice. “We must pursue justice for ourselves, in addition to our clients. In addition to our public. We must pursue justice for what we have lost, for what we have seen others lose.
“I want justice for myself. I want justice for all of us who are living, achieving, succeeding despite the odds that are stacked against us,” he said. “I want justice for people who need us to advocate for them in hopes of a better future.”
Several awards were announced during the ceremony for graduates of both classes. For a full list of award recipients, see the Commencement Program.
Academic Achievement Awards
Full-time students: Daniel James Tocci ’20 and Spencer K. Schneider ‘21
Part-time students: Robert C. Devine ’20 and Jocelyn Frawley ‘21
Clinical Legal Education Award (CLEA)
Kseniya Evgenyevna Ruzanova ’20
Sarah Accar ‘21
External Legal Education Award (CLEA)
Lisa M. Raimondi ‘21
Connecticut Attorneys Title Insurance Company (CATIC) Foundation, Inc. Award:
Robert C. Devine ’20
Victoria M. Wood '21
Dean’s Service Award
Johnny Ross III ’20
Sharon Jeanette Hazel ‘21
Pro Bono Award
Christina Yeajin Suh ’20 (503.50 hours of pro bono work)
Natalie Nicole Newsom ’21 (486.50 hours of pro bono work)
St. Thomas More Award
Kyle J. Zacharewicz ’20
Daniel Justin Figueroa ‘21
Student Bar Association Hon. Francis L. Larkin Amicus Award
Camille D. Evans ’20
Maria M. Lim ‘21
Thurgood Marshall Social Justice Award
Michael A. Cain ’20
Maria M. Lim '21