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California Western's 108th Commencement Ceremony Launches Graduates into Legal Profession

Sígrid Vendrell-Polanco and her family at graduation

California Western School of Law’s 108th commencement held December 16 was special in many ways. Not only because it was the last December graduation the law school will hold, but because of the special group of 53 graduates who walked across the stage to receive their Juris Doctor, Master’s in Health Law, J.D./M.B.A., or LL.M. (Master of Laws) degrees.

“This year, we have celebrated 90 years of excellence as we marked our 90th year in San Diego,” said California Western President and Dean Niels B. Schaumann. “It is fitting that we close this special year with a focus on the future. These graduates are our future. And we know that future is bright.”

Student commencement speaker Christian W. Barton shared in the optimism about the graduates’ futures by recognizing their myriad accomplishments to reach this moment in their lives—from donating countless hours to nonprofit organizations, to serving as judicial assistants, to working for the district attorney or public defender, and even founding companies.

“It is no wonder they were able to accomplish such wonderful feats because so many of them had already overcome so much just to get to law school,” said Barton. “When an obstacle is placed in their path, they treated it as a challenge to overcome.”

Barton himself turned obstacles into challenges and successfully overcame them. He was grievously injured in a skydiving accident and was told he would never walk again. But walk he did—across the stage to the podium.

“During my rehabilitation, I learned something important and it was the reason why I was able to walk on this stage and stand before you today,” said Barton. “I learned that a positive mental outlook and a singular devotion to achieving one’s goals is the surest guarantee of success in life.”

Another graduate who overcame great obstacles is Erik N. Weber, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and felt “exhilarated” to be graduating from law school.

“It feels really awesome to be a person who has gone from no language and no projected future at 5-years-old, and doctors telling my parents to put me in an institution, to being a law school graduate,” said Weber, who plans to take the bar exam in February and then do post-bar work in disability law.

The commencement speaker was U.S. District Court Judge Anthony J. Battaglia, a 1974 graduate of California Western, who said he was inspired by what Barton told the audience and reflected on Barton’s theme of all the great things the graduates will do.

“You will be bar association leaders, head up major firms, run cities, run states, maybe even run the country—because of what you have learned in this school from these fine folks behind me (the faculty),” said Battaglia.

He also said that while the legal profession will enrich their lives in innumerable ways, he also asked the graduates to balance their practice of law with their personal lives.

“You need to be a complete person, not just a lawyer,” said Battaglia. “For the lawyer, it’s not just a job. It’s a profession. Ask yourself: ‘Am I the kind of lawyer that does right for the community, the client, our system of justice, and our democracy?’ I urge you to say ‘yes.’”

Many of the graduates felt the same sense of disbelief that this day had finally arrived.

“It’s surreal. I can’t believe we’re done. That we worked so hard and that we did it!,” said Sígrid Vendrell-Polanco, who plans to practice criminal law.

“I’m excited. I can’t wait to start practicing,” said Chris Talia, who will go into business and tax law after the bar exam. “It’s exciting that all of my hard work is paying off.”

“It’s a bittersweet day, but I’m ecstatic to be graduating,” said Kelly Haynes, who plans to practice transactional law.

“This is just the beginning,” said Maigan Wright who has applied for a master’s in nursing and plans to use her law degree in the in health care management field. “Hospital risk management and regulatory compliance, here I come!”

California Western congratulates its December 2014 graduates and wishes them great success in their careers.