UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students, faculty, staff, family, and friends gathered in Eisenhower Auditorium in University Park on Saturday, May 14, to celebrate the graduating Penn State Law Class of 2022. The class included 135 J.D. students, 130 LL.M. students, and 8 M.L.S. students. Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, and Nick Jones, Penn State executive vice president and provost, both addressed the class. The Honorable Theodore A. McKee, former chief judge of the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, delivered the commencement address.
The return to an indoor, in-person commencement ceremony, the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was full of excitement. Jill Engle, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of clinical law said, “This is a day we have all been waiting for.” Nearly all commencement speakers noted the unique challenges this class faced and how the students overcame them.
Notable accomplishments of the Class of 2022:
- Mock trial team named Champion of the Midwest Region of the American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition;
- Another mock trial team was awarded second place out of 28 teams in Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Invitational Competition;
- Eight graduates in the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) participated in the Donning of the Kente Ceremony;
- One graduate was a finalist at American Constitution Society’s Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition; and
- One graduate published an article titled “Alternatives at the ‘Centre’ of Veterans Treatment Courts” in The Pennsylvania Lawyer May/June 2022 Edition
After J.D. graduates Cara Joy Skelley and Demetra Dentes sang the National Anthem, Houck made his opening remarks.
“Those of you who are graduating today have by any measure accomplished something very significant in your lives, but the circumstances under which you’ve accomplished it are even all the more impressive,” Houck said.
James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs, addresses the Class of 2022 during commencement. IMAGE: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
In the second semester of their first year, the Class of 2022 had to switch to remote and hybrid learning. International students in the LL.M. program grappled with visa approvals, travel restrictions, and isolation upon arriving at Penn State. But this did not stop them from achieving their goals. While the pandemic shaped their experience, they learned to overcome and succeed in the face of adversity.
“This year’s celebration does feel particularly special. To all of our graduating students, I commend you for your perseverance, resilience, and your commitment to learning during an educational experience that has been truly like no other,” said Jones.
After acknowledging what the class accomplished, Jones told them, “You are ready to take your place in the legal community and to serve with intelligence, integrity, and honor.”
The commencement included two peer-selected student speakers. The first speaker, Selin Onur, LL.M. graduate, spoke about the class cultivating a close-knit community.
“These last nine months have been a once in a lifetime experience. What made it so special is that regardless of our differences, we always respected each other and celebrated the diversity amongst us.”
Onur said she was honored to be a part of this international family and encouraged her peers to take their experiences into the next chapter of their lives. With the memories and culture they created during their time as law students, they will become part of Penn State Law’s legacy and shape its future as alumni.
LL.M. graduate Selin Onur was one of two peer-selected student speakers at commencement. IMAGE: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
McKee started his commencement address with a response to Onur’s remarks.
“You are the future of Penn State University, but it’s more than that—the graduates today in no small way—you’re really the future of us. Of all of us.”
He spoke about the importance of the rule of law and the dangers society faces when it’s under threat. Undermining the rule of law affects the foundation of the country’s democratic government.
McKee noted that while lawyers are essential for a thriving democracy, there must also be caring and informed people that lay the foundation. He asked the graduates to figure out what kind of person they want to be so their answer can inspire what kind of lawyer they want to be.
He concluded with one final message. “Wherever you go, whatever you do, make a difference to that one.”
The Honorable Theodore A. McKee delivers the commencement address to the Class of 2022.
IMAGE: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
After McKee’s speech, Jones and M. Abraham Harpster, member of the Board of Trustees, conferred the degrees. Graduates walked across the stage as a slide showed their name and photographs while their friends and family cheered them on.
The final student speaker was J.D. graduate Skyler Morgan. Morgan humbled her peers as she took them back to their first year of law school when they were anxious and uncertain. She reminded them of where they started and what they have created in the past three years.
“We gave ourselves a community. We reached out to each other when times were hard. We began to prioritize our mental health. And we grew even stronger and we were able to have some amazing conversations with each other.”
Morgan then called her class to action. “I am encouraging each and every one of you all to live in your truth, because there a lot of groups of people who can currently not live in their truth.”
After calling to attention issues such as denial of reproductive rights, high incarceration rates of Black Americans, Asian hate crime rates, and discrimination against the transgender community, Morgan said they have the chance to change these problems for the better.
J.D. graduate Skyler Morgan was the final student speaker during commencement.
IMAGE: Ken Kalbach/Penn State Law
This commencement showcased the close bonds the class formed during their eventful journey from arriving as incoming students to graduation day. Their gratitude and camaraderie made it evident the Class of 2022 will carry Penn State Law with them wherever they go.
Morgan’s final message to her peers included three important reminders.
“As you leave here today, I want you to remember three things. First, as Professor Mathews told us, just remember you did this to yourself. Second, remember to always respect and protect other people’s truths even if it doesn’t look like yours. And then third, we are!”
She held out her hands to her classmates who called back “Penn State!”
You can view the Penn State Law Class of 2022 Commencement here.