School of Law commencement speakers lift with life lessons

School of Law graduates celebrate commencement ceremonies on Saturday. Photo: Catharine Skipp/University of Miami

By Catharine Skipp

School of Law graduates celebrate commencement ceremonies on Saturday. Photo: Catharine Skipp/University of Miami

School of Law commencement speakers lift with life lessons

By Catharine Skipp
Graduates at the School of Law walked the stage at the Watsco Center to the cheers of family and friends celebrating the culmination of their legal education and the affirmation of bright futures.

Filled with promise and satisfaction of a milestone passed, 315 J.D., 75 LL.M., and 43 joint degree graduates donned robes, tams, and regalia to accept sheepskins and accolades during commencement ceremonies on Saturday for University of Miami School of Law students. 

The assembled were treated and inspired by messages promoting trust and the cornerstones of democracy from the host of speakers, including commencement speaker and double 'Cane Deborah Enix-Ross

"What we did here was not just earn a law degree," Enix-Ross said during ceremonies at the Watsco Center on the Coral Gables Campus. "We did something much more profound and important. 

"In choosing law as our profession, what we did is to stand up to forces throughout the globe that are promoting lawlessness, corruption, and attacks on democratic governance that threaten hard-won fundamental rights and freedoms," she said. 

Enix-Ross, president of the American Bar Association, is a changemaker who has used her intellect, compassion, and commitment to make the world more equitable and blaze trails in the legal profession. In her 41-year legal career, the double alumna has broken through numerous barriers to become one of the world's top dispute resolution lawyers and legal leaders. In her early days, she was often the youngest person in the room, the only woman, or the only person of color, and, too often, all three. 


View photos and video from the 2023 Commencement Ceremonies

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Enix-Ross rose to her current role as senior advisor of the International Dispute Resolution Group at Debevoise & Plimpton. She began her term in 2022 as president of the American Bar Association, the world's largest voluntary association of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals. She has approached the position with the same goals she has used throughout her life—to pay it forward and "lift as you climb." 

As the second Black woman to lead the ABA and the third School of Law alumna, Enix-Ross focuses her presidency on civics, civility, and collaboration. 

President Julio Frenk told graduates to answer "the call to serve as agents of change, to address inequities, and to promote the common good," and student commencement speaker David Scollan reminded them of "the trust we forged as a class, unlike any other in history; we came together while physically apart"—a reference to the COVID-19 pandemic that required some virtual learning. 

As they transition into practice, Miami Law Dean David Yellen urged the new graduates "to embody the values you have learned at the University of Miami and do not forget the passion to make a difference that brought you here. Use your law degree to seek justice for all and make the world a better place." 

Many of the class of 2023 began at the School of Law in a world changed like no other in recent memory: experiencing a global health crisis and challenging the educational model for students and educators alike amid tumultuous times of social upheaval. Lessons of perseverance and the rule of law were being tested in real-time throughout the land. 

"Our generational experiences shape our world views," said Frenk. "Your generation has lived through a far-reaching pandemic and the ensuing social, political, cultural, and environmental disruptions, as well as an erosion of trust in institutions, democracy, science, the media, and each other. 

"If you are searching for stability and trust in what seems like an unstable world, you are not alone," he said. "Your focused energy, coupled with your University of Miami School of Law education, equip you with a distinct ability to strengthen our trust in the future." 

Scollan, a Miami Public Interest Scholar, used the opportunity to address this class's extraordinary circumstances, focusing on "the essential element of our law school educations and what will define our time in practice. That is, trust." 

"In August 2020, with a global pandemic swirling around us, we set out into uncharted territory as 1L students of the University of Miami Zoom School of Law," he said. "We put in the work, lifted each other up, and trusting that better days would come." 

He said that the most critical trust was not what they had among themselves or their professors, "but the trust that clients will place in us as their attorneys. It's the trust that defines our legal system and, in turn, upholds our institutions. Because, without the public's trust in us as their advocates, their representation, their counsel, the rule of law itself begins to wobble. 

"We have seen in our time in law school alone that though the law is a powerful tool it too can be fragile. From political instability and racial injustice at home to wars of conquest abroad, and climate change all around us, we will have plenty to do––lawyers stand in the breech," he said. 

After graduation, Scollan has tentatively accepted a position as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice through the Attorney General's Honors Program in the Tax Division's Criminal Enforcement Section. 

"It will be a team sport, a lifelong group project, that will require from all of us, in the public sector and in private practice, to do our work and do it well: to lawyer efficiency and ethically," Scollan said. "And to also not only accept the things we cannot change but also to change the things we cannot accept. In us, we trust."