Aug. 17, 2021 - University of Houston Law Center J.D. and LL.M. graduates from the Class of 2020 finally got the moment they were waiting for - a chance to walk across the stage with family and friends applauding on Aug. 13 at the Fertitta Center.
The Class of 2020 will be remembered for its perseverance. At the start of the J.D. class' 1L year, students were faced with challenges presented by Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017. In the final months of their 3L year, the Law Center switched to remote operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This class has shown its resilience in rising to the many challenges of our day, said Dean Leonard M. Baynes. “You had to adjust abruptly to an online education as the coronavirus became a global pandemic. You had to adjust to pass-fail grading. You had to adjust to changes in the Bar exam in terms of when it was given and some of you taking the first online virtual exam. Some of you also endured Winter Storm Uri with power outages and record cold temperatures in midst of your last-minute preparation for the February Bar exam. But you still overcame. the
“Many of you have been in practice for almost one year. During that time, I hope that you have experienced the power of the UH Law degree. I hope that you are realizing the “power of legal education” and how by studying law, you learned to write more precisely, analyze more rigorously and advocate more persuasively.”
Additional class, alumni and faculty speakers were featured on the Law Center’s second-ever video wall.
Maryam Ghaffar, currently serving as a judicial law clerk for the Supreme Court of Texas, was the J.D. class speaker.
“We are a class unto our own,” Ghaffar said. “The challenges we faced - no class will understand. I don't think any of us could have imagined that the last time we would have walked out of that old, concrete law school building would be our last. Farewell embraces were replaced with deadpan goodbyes on our computer screen. May 12th came and went without the pomp and circumstance we dreamt of.
“This pandemic took so much from us. But instead of dwelling all that we lost, I want to talk about all that we’ve gained. The great silver lining was that it challenged us as a class to be better. This is something we will carry with us into our careers. While the feeling of celebration may have passed for many of you, I’m here to remind you that your experience is worthy of celebration. Continue being authentic, vulnerable and empathetic not only for your co-workers and clients, but also to yourself. It is with grace that we can fulfill our personal potential, realize our life's purpose and honor the sacrifices of our ancestors.”
Leticia Leal, the speaker for the LL.M. class, said she was proud to be representing such a diverse group of classmates from around the world.
“We are here celebrating this astonishing accomplishment,” Leal said. “We endured so many obstacles to be here, especially because of COVID. Some of us lost a loved one, had health scares, financial difficulties, emotional struggles, kids at home when you needed to study and so on. However, we overcame all of that and we are here ready to move onto our next step in life. This experience has changed me as a person and changed my life forever for the better.”
Professor Gina Warren, the A.L. O'Quinn Chair in Environmental Studies and co-director of the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Center was selected as the faculty speaker.
“As you journey through, I encourage you to live with purpose - whatever that purpose is for you,” Warren said. “I encourage you to take opportunities as they come, even if they're not comfortable. I encourage you to gravitate toward the things that bring you joy. Work on cases and accounts that interest you. Avoid wasting time trying to impress people who put you down or pull up the ladder behind them.
“Instead, use your time to collaborate with people who make you feel good about what you're doing, and cultivate relationships with those who lift you up when they excel. And don't forget to pay that forward.”
Graduates were also welcomed into the Law Center’s network of alumni by UH Law Alumni Association president Alex Roberts.
“I want to belatedly welcome you to the community of over 17,000 Law Center alumni,” Roberts said. “You are now members of a rich tradition of graduates that spans nearly 75 years. Law Center graduates are leaders, lawyers, judges, professors, politicians, executives, stay-at-home parents, young and young at heart and of every background, color, national origin and sex. What an incredible group to be a part of.
“You are an extraordinary group of graduates of whom we are eager to watch flourish in your careers.”