Law school graduates urged to not wait to pursue justice

May 15, 2018

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Chancellor Robert E. Johnson delivered a powerful message to its graduating class of future legal experts: don’t wait to change the world.

Speaking at the law school’s commencement exercises on May 14, he borrowed a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. to illustrate why the university’s nearly 50 law graduates should not wait to put their education to use.

“One of his great quotes was for so often they keep telling us to wait,” Johnson said. “Your generation and this class can no longer wait. Our society, and our country, needs you. So I expect - I want - each and every one of you to rise up and meet the needs of the present age.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was the commencement speaker, and used her speech to urge the graduating class to stay engaged, regardless of which area of law graduates pursue.

“We need your skills, we need your talents, and we need your dedication to upholding people’s rights. So I ask each of you: stay engaged. Even if you don’t work in the public interest – make time for clients and causes that need your help,” Healey said.

Following her speech, Healey was recognized with the Chancellor’s Medal for her work as the state’s attorney general.

The student speaker, Alicia F. Blanchard, already has a lengthy resume. Her academic career at the university law school included Student Bar Association President and on various student organization executive boards. Her work has been published in the UMass Law Review, where she served as editor. She highlighted the diversity in the class in backgrounds and areas of study.

“With all the diversity we bring to the law school community, we are united by a common goal that is to pursue justice,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard detailed her own discovery to pursue law, which came when she was eight years old growing up on her family’s farm in northern Massachusetts. When her parents decided to sell the farm, words like Chapter 61A and rights of first refusal — state laws relating to the selling of land taxed under agricultural status — scared her.

"I was terrified by these words, but like every 8-year-old curiosity overcame fear and my parents gave me my first lesson in the law,” she said. “They explained what those words meant and suddenly those were not so scary. That day I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.”

At that moment, she discovered her desire to understand and explain the law to others in the pursuit of justice.

Phillip Rutahweire received the Academic Achievement Award, which is given to the student with the highest GPA. He was inspired to go into law after the native of Uganda was assisted by an attorney in applying for lawful permanent residency.

The journey to a law degree is a challenging one, and no one knows that better than Dan Galvin. He credited his academic - and life- advisor Jeremiah Ho with helping him through his studies.

“Out of anyone here, Leanne and I, we honestly thought we would never get to this day, but we have made it, and so it’s kind of shocking.”

His friend and classmate Leann Stellmach agreed.

“It’s been a long road these four years,” Stellmach said. “There were times where it was tough and we did question if we were going to make it, but to see everyone here today and to see the people I started with also graduate with me has been great.”