You could feel—and hear—the joy, energy, and spirit in the room as nearly 200 soon-to-be-graduates marched down the aisle at California Western's 109th Commencement on May 1, held at the San Diego Convention Center.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Katherine M. Pierson, just before she made the walk. She will join a personal injury law firm after she takes the bar exam.
“It feels like the end of a long journey,” said Casey G. Lowe, who will join the consumer-focused Kazerouni Law Group after the bar exam.
In addition to the Juris Doctor degree candidates were graduates who earned advanced and dual degrees: LL.M. (Master of Laws), J.D./MBA (Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration, J.D./MSW (Juris Doctor and Master of Social Work), and MAS (Master of Advanced Study - Health Law).
“We have witnessed a transformation in these students from nervous incoming students to experienced and confident graduates, standing on the cusp of their new career,” said President and Dean Niels B. Schaumann. “Like you, we are immensely proud of what they have accomplished and what they will accomplish in the future, as they work to improve the rule of law and expand access to justice in our communities.”
“Whatever it took to motivate us—we found it and kept on,” said student speaker Dayna Ellsworth, on the determination of her classmates. “The influential factor in this graduating class was our passion and our absolute refusal to fail. This kind of tenacity and resilience emanates from the soul of this school.”
“Don’t be afraid to take some risks,” said California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, the commencement speaker. “Celebrate your successes, but equally important, do not fear failure.”
Liu spoke of some of the setbacks he has overcome, from messing up in his elementary school spelling bee to not being confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a federal appellate judgeship after being nominated by President Obama.
“Sometimes failure is a gateway to other opportunities in life,” Liu said, ”like the failure to get one judgeship and unexpectedly getting another.”
Many of the graduates have jobs lined up after they take the bar exam.
Samantha S. McPherson will work for a labor and employment firm; Micaela De La Cerda will become a San Diego County Public Defender, and Ellsworth will become a prosecutor in the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
“It’s unbelievable!” said McPherson. “I’ve been waiting my entire life to be here.”
So have so many others who realized their hopes and dreams by walking across the stage and receiving the ceremonial hood that signifies their doctoral degree.
“It feels amazing,” said Trashon J.L. Herndon Jr., who plans to practice criminal defense law. “It took hard work and determination—I gave it everything I had.”