Dean Eric Mitnick urges graduates to Pursue Justice “actively, vigorously, and urgently”
For the first time since 2019, UMass Law graduates and their families filled the Main Auditorium on the UMass Dartmouth campus to joyously celebrate the graduation of 84 members of the Class of 2022— a “special" class that persevered, pursued, and completed their law degrees during unexpected and unprecedented circumstances.
As the law students arrived on the campus of Massachusetts’ only public law school, the 1Ls were eager to Pursue Justice as advocates for others. During their spring break in March 2020, their classes converted to remote learning for the next year as they navigated law school during a global pandemic. Their resilience in earning their degrees resonated through the day’s speeches and in the accomplishments felt by the graduates and their families.
“I will say, I have never been more proud of our resilient UMass Law community than during this public health emergency—faculty members diligently and very deliberately learning new technologies, sharing ideas, and working together to ensure the continuity of our students’ legal education. Staff members devotedly operating behind the scenes and functioning very much on our front lines of this crisis, working always on behalf of our students,” said Dean Eric Mitnick in his address to the class.
“And our students themselves—all of you—none of whom signed up for what we went through facing the largest social, economic, and educational upheaval hopefully of our lives, with the kind of courage and persistence that demonstrated what extraordinarily talented and dedicated legal professionals and public servants you would become,” he added.
Chancellor Fuller extols the accomplishments of the law school and its graduates
“Completing law school is a significant accomplishment—it always has been. It signals your curiosity, determination, and resilience,” said Chancellor Mark A. Fuller. “Let’s be honest; law school is not for the faint of heart. It takes real perseverance to get across the finish line. And even in the midst of a pandemic, you persevered, and continued to have a positive impact on our community.”
He commended the 150,000 hours of pro bono legal services UMass Law students have contributed to the community since 2010 in education, the environment, health care, and other critical social support. Along with offering the lowest tuition of any ABA-accredited law school in MA, UMass Law also offers the smallest doctrinal class sizes, has invested in 3+3 programs with 14 undergraduate colleges that will accelerate the path to a law degree, and ranks 5th among New England law schools for diversity and 15th nationally for the percentage of female law school faculty.
UMass Law is one of the fastest-growing law schools in the U.S. and ranks third in national enrollment growth among nearly 200 ABA-accredited law schools.
“I have no doubt that you will add to those points of pride,” said Chancellor Fuller. “You are living examples of what a UMass Law degree can do at the start of a promising career, and your victories are our victories. Your example paves the way for the students who come after.
“There will be challenges, to be certain, both personal and professional. There will be wrong turns and second guesses. There will be people standing in your way who don’t think you can do it. But we believe in you. Remember that we will always be cheering you on,” he said.
Dean Mitnick speaks of justice
Reflecting on the UMass Law motto, Pursue Justice, Dean Mitnick reminded the new graduates of their calling. “The idea is not only that you conduct yourselves consistent with the dictates of justice, but that you pursue justice—actively, vigorously, and urgently,” he said.
“And, indeed, a license to practice law is a powerful thing. As you all now know, the nature of our common law adjudicatory system is such that even a single passionate and committed lawyer can change the law and improve lives and the world within which we all live. Because lawyers, at our best, stand for what is right. Lawyers pursue justice,” said Mitnick.
Student speaker Joseph Spadoni praises his “special class”
A 2016 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, student speaker Joseph Spadoni, JD ‘22 of Walpole, MA, served as an Academic Fellow under Professor Amy Vaughan-Thomas, as a contract law and law review note writing teaching assistant to Professor Jeremiah Ho, and a constitutional law teaching assistant to Professor Dwight Duncan. He was elected as the Executive Notes Editor of the UMass Law Review. His first piece of scholarship, “The Unconscionability of the NFL’s Franchise Tag,” was published in the University of Denver Sports & Entertainment Law Journal.
Spadoni worked as a judicial intern at the Superior Court in Dedham, MA and will serve as a judicial law clerk at the MA Appeals Court.
In his address, he reflected on what his class endured during their legal education. “We are a special class; we are the class that began law school in person, continued online, and concluded together again. Just when we started to get the hang of case briefing, outlining, and getting cold-called on by our professors, our entire world got spun upside down. In March of 2020, we left for a one-week spring break, and we didn’t know when we would return. We all had to find a way to continue our legal education, continue our lives, and we did find a way; we found a path forward, and that path has led to this moment, our Commencement Day.”
Spadoni thanked all those who helped them along the way. “None of us can claim that we made it to this Commencement ceremony alone. Take pride in your accomplishments, for you did the work. But let’s pause and think of all those who believed in us, all those we didn’t have the heart to let down, all those people who supported our dream of becoming lawyers.”
He reminded his classmates to care for themselves, each other, and the marginalized. “If we love ourselves, we will seek balance, relationships, meaning, purpose, and thereby pursue justice. If we love each other, we will live mercifully, joyfully, gratefully, genuinely, and thereby pursue justice. And if we love the marginalized, we may know pain, disrespect, disappointment, disagreement, but thereby pursue justice, for if we—this resilient, dedicated, special Class of 2022—will not love the marginalized, then who will?
“Think of all those who need us, the special Class of 2022,” Spadoni said. “Our struggle during this global pandemic was not meaningless, for it helped us develop grit, humility, and empathy. Let our suffering inspire us to be compassionate towards those who suffer. Let our pain inspire us to be healers towards those in pain. Listen, the world needs us.”
Castell Abner, Jr., JD ’97, president of the UMass Law Alumni Association, called on the graduates to become active members in the alumni community. “We need you. You, as a collective, will bring an element that no generation of alumni have experienced. You are a group of new change agents who navigated this uphill and arduous journey throughout one of the most erratic years the world has seen in nearly a century,” he said.
Members of the Class of 2022 are already succeeding in the job market and have accepted positions throughout the U.S. as assistant district attorneys, judicial law clerks, public defenders, an Honors Fellow, and attorneys in private practice and public service.