U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra Praises and Offers Sage Advice to Newly Graduated Law School Class of 2012 in Ceremonies Sunday at Andrews Amphitheater

May 14, 2012

During commencement ceremonies yesterday, Federal District Judge David A. Ezra praised the graduating class of the William S. Richardson School of Law, advising the newly-minted lawyers that “a career in law is one of the best jobs around - and one of the best ways to serve your community.”

Ezra spoke at the end of the Sunday afternoon ceremony at Andrews Amphitheater that brought together hundreds of friends and family members to watch 101 black-robed graduates receive JD degrees and another 11 international students from around the world accept graduate Masters of Law degrees.

Judge Ezra, who has taught as an adjunct professor at the Law School for 34 years, shared wisdom gained from his years as a practicing attorney and his almost 25 years on the federal bench, advising the class they should “treat each client as your most important,” and know that the most precious asset was their own reputations.

“Don’t let this wonderful law degree go to your head. It’s a powerful thing being a lawyer and with that comes great responsibility,” he said. “Be responsible, be kind, and mind your manners.”

Ezra also advised the young graduates that this was the moment to write down goals – and then revisit them periodically.

“The years will fly by…Always be mindful of the path you are on.”

Under a late afternoon sun, Law School Dean Avi Soifer called the Class of 2012 “extraordinary,” noting its solidarity during a tough year that saw the sudden and tragic loss of Prof. John Van Dyke. Faculty speaker Prof. Mari Matsuda called the class one of the most inspiring she has seen, and one that has consistently taken action to move the school and the community forward.

“From the day they arrived, they have asked how could they make a difference,” said Matsuda, citing how the class has repeatedly put its efforts into organizing groups to meet emerging needs. They advocated for public interest law, for a Federalist society, for an animal rights group, for a soccer team. If something didn’t exist, their answer was: “Let’s start it,” said Matsuda.

Included in their list of accomplishments was a significant class gift to the newly-established Jon Van Dyke Institute, which was accepted by his wife, attorney and Law School lecturer Sherry Broder. The Institute is being formed to continue Van Dyke’s work in human rights and environmental and ocean law, in part by providing scholarships to outstanding law students.

In receiving the gift from Tiffany Chang, Kristin Shinkawa, and Stacy Takekawa, representatives of the 2012 class, Broder announced an international conference being planned for late January, 2013. It will honor her husband’s work and bring to Hawai‘i scholars from around the world, including those working for the rights of indigenous people.

Throughout the ceremony both faculty and student speakers praised the families who had raised this outstanding group of young scholars. Student speaker Brent Kakesako said the pledge they all took three years ago upon their Law School entry resonated even more strongly today, becoming “a roadmap to act with integrity and civility and to always seek justice.”

The Law School commencement was especially sweet for the first cohort of graduates from the Evening Part-Time Juris Doctor Program. The program, begun four years ago, was designed to make the dream of attending law school a reality for students who can’t attend school full time. Many in the program are working professionals; others have responsibilities caring for children or other family members.

The students who graduated yesterday began when the program was launched in 2008, and are the first to progress through it to graduation. Class speaker Erin Chisholm Kalopodes told the audience how so many in the program had full-time jobs that they continued even as they attended classes.

“We left work at 5 o’clock and battled rush-hour traffic to get to class at 5:30,” she said, noting that many needed doses of vitamins or extra-large coffees to stay awake.

“One of our students even worked three jobs,” she said.

Kalopodes said the class inspiration was graduate Monty Anderson, who, despite being legally blind, has challenged himself at the highest level.

“He has shown all of us we can do anything we can set our minds to,” she said.

Soifer especially praised the evening students, saying “they have really made a difference…The diversity of their experience is so enriching for our Law School. They have even outpaced our dreams.”
 

Student speakers Moana Numanga from New Zealand and Elmira Hadzhieva, from Bulgaria, both part of the LLM class, spoke of the powerful experience of spending a year in Hawai‘i studying law, and how they had juggled family life as well as their studies. Hadzhieva spoke especially of how she had been drawn to Richardson because of its family-friendly atmosphere and how her young children had even been welcomed in her law classes when their own school was closed for spring break.

The ceremony was also highlighted by an ‘oli of welcome by ‘Ahahui o Hawai‘i honoring the School’s namesake, Chief Justice Richardson, and a hula tribute by members of the class. Faculty members Calvin G.C. Pang and Laurie A. Tochiki conferred the degrees.