Behind the Pomp and Circumstance

This is the ninth in a series of weekly blog posts about the work of Marquette Law School’s Office of Student Affairs. The previous post and links to all prior posts from this series can be found at this link.

Diploma CoverThe Law School’s largest event of the year, by far, is graduation.

Or, as you may see it advertised, the Hooding and Commencement Ceremony. We use a variety of terms interchangeably to refer to the event, which historically has taken place on the third Saturday in May. Graduates walk across the stage and receive their law degree.

That sounds so sterile for such a meaningful event, doesn’t it? In fact—in truth—this event is rich and meaningful, both for our graduates, their families, friends, and guests and for those of us who work at the Law School—faculty and staff. It is inspiring to see students, who were nervous and maybe even a little scared when we first greeted them at Orientation, walk confidently across the stage at Commencement. We get to cheer for students who have gone through hardship triumph as they pass this important finish line. We celebrate not just how far all of our graduates have come but also the bright futures that await them.

The purpose of this blog post is to take you behind the scenes of graduation as it comes together.

The Law School’s Office of Student Affairs coordinates the “show,” but on the day-of, it’s an all-hands on deck production, which includes our Events, Facilities, and Tech teams, our Admissions Office, and a number of colleagues from the Law Library.

Planning for graduation starts before the academic year even begins (there’s a mark of our confidence). The prior spring (i.e., that of most graduates’ 2L year), we’re already in contract negotiations with the venue for the following May. And the dean is often considering and sending out an invitation to a potential guest speaker a year ahead.

Each year, we assess and revise, with an eye toward enhancing the experience for our graduates and their guests. Here are just a handful of those seemingly small details to which we’ve given a lot of thought:

  • Regalia Pickup and Graduate Fair
    • Graduation itself almost can be said to start before the day of graduation. As busy as the run up to graduation is for me personally (someone must go through all the regalia orders and ensure that tickets are counted and everything is in order), the Regalia Pickup and Graduate Fair, in Eckstein Hall a couple of days before graduation, is honestly one of my own favorite days. This has been a post-COVID initiative that might seem very business-oriented and straightforward (graduates need to get their regalia and tickets somehow), but we wanted to make sure to convey the message to our graduates that even when they leave us, they are not alone. The Law Alumni Association Board, the State Bar of Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Bar Association all join in to welcome our soon-to-be new lawyers and help them get connected to resources and networks that will allow them to continue to be successful after leaving their student days behind.
  • Requesting a verbal recording of graduate names
    • We know how important it is to hear a graduate’s name said correctly. It’s why we request that graduates submit a recording of their names in advance. Our name reader then reviews the names in advance and does her best to deliver the memorable moment for the graduates and their families.
  • Seating graduates in alphabetical order
    • Why would we insist on having graduates seated and called on stage in alphabetical order by last name? It is so that families, friends, and guests of our law student know when to expect their graduate to walk across the stage and be hooded, and they don’t have to worry about sneezing and missing the big moment. (I won’t even tell you what happens to our elaborate seating charts when a graduate cancels last minute!)
  • Celebratory reception after the ceremony
    • Like a wedding, commencement can be a whirlwind experience. Looking back at my own graduations, I even have some regrets about missing out on photos with some classmates or missing an opportunity to introduce a mentor to my family because everyone scattered immediately after the ceremony. That’s why we have a reception in the rotunda outside of the theater, immediately following the formal ceremony. It gives everyone the chance to breathe a bit, mingle, socialize, and capture those opportunities with graduates, their families, friends, and our faculty and staff. (Pro tip: The dean likes being asked to join a photo.)[*]

Again, those are just a few examples of details requiring our attention. If all goes to plan (and it always seems to), we’ve created a two-hour (in other words, brief, for a commencement ceremony) quality event that our graduates and their guests will remember fondly. Although you may hear me say that graduation planning is a well-oiled machine, it’s only because we take so much care throughout the year to make sure all the little details are just right (I have the spreadsheets to prove it). Even those little details have major impacts.

[*] Beyond graduation, providing professional photography is another post-COVID initiative that we hope makes even more special the swearing-in or admission ceremony, which takes place in Madison the Monday after commencement. The Law School reserves an awesome photographer to capture each of our newest Marquette lawyers signing Wisconsin’s roll of attorneys. It’s always a treat to share these photos of this “magic moment.”

Continue ReadingBehind the Pomp and Circumstance

By the Students, For the Students

This post, by the Assistant Director of Student Affairs, is the fourth in a series of weekly blog posts this semester concerning the work of the Office of Student Affairs. The first, by Dean Kearney, can be found here, and the second and third, by Assistant Dean of Students Anna Fodor, are available here and here.

FGP's 2023 First-Gen Mixer Photo
First Generation Professionals’ fall 2023 First-Gen Mixer at Third Street Market Hall. Photo courtesy of Emily Kehl, president of FGP.

Student organizations are a staple at educational institutions, including Marquette University Law School. These organizations offer students opportunities to form their own smaller communities within a larger institution. Here at Marquette Law School—whether driven by a particular practice area, an aspect of students’ personal identity, or a legal philosophy—student-run organizations offer a way for future Marquette lawyers to build connections with their peers and beyond. It might even surprise some to learn how much these “outside of the classroom” interactions shape a student’s development, contribute to identity formation, and can affect student retention and performance.[1]

Registered student organizations[2] are the one aspect of the law school experience run by students, for students. They are completely voluntary and extracurricular, with no academic prescriptions or curricular incentives for holding or attending events (on the other hand, free food, no mean incentive, is widely available); the interests and activities of students entirely drive these communities. Through them, students help create the “culture” at a particular school. How active (or inactive) an organization is, what it chooses to do, which speakers it brings to campus, how inviting and inclusive its programs are—all of these affect a law school’s culture and the student experience.

Let me give a quick highlight of our Marquette Law School student organizations and some representative engagement opportunities:

  • 35+ active organizations
  • 80+ meetings, speakers, panels, socials, and networking events during the Fall 2023 Semester
  • 150+ student leadership positions

Forum “tabling” events are quick and small ways by which students can engage with each other, with a fun “swing by for a few minutes” vibe; a few examples:

  • The Organization for Student Wellbeing’s Savor the Sips social tabling
  • Hispanic Latino Law Students Association’s monthly Taco Tuesday fundraiser
  • Student Bar Association’s Welcome Back donuts

For organizations that host a guest speaker or panel of speakers, each event brings in practicing attorneys, judges, or experts in their field to discuss legal issues. Recent examples include:

  • Labor and Employment Law Society’s AI and the Workforce panel
  • The Federalist Society’s speaker event with the Hon. Michael Brennan discussing Biden v. Nebraska and federal student loan debt
  • Out and Allies speaker event to discuss LGBTQ+ Issues in Education

Social and networking events allow our students to build lasting friendships, meet practitioners, and gather outside of Eckstein Hall. At one point or another, almost all of our organizations host networking events with their professional chapter equivalents or local bar associations. A sampling of RSOs’ recent social and networking events:

  • Sports Law Society’s annual Brewers tailgate and game
  • Real Estate Law Society’s monthly happy hour
  • First Generation Professionals’ annual first-gen mixer
  • Asian Law Students Association’s fall boba tea gathering

And a few signature events get the entirety of the student body, often along with faculty and staff, involved, engaged, and feeling like part of our greater community. These include:

  • Canned Immunity, the collaborative week-long donation drive spearheaded by our Association for Women Lawyers to collect canned goods and food for local community food banks. Interested professors grant “on call” immunity during the week for students to bring in a donation.
  • The Period Products Initiative, led by the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Society and the Office of Student Affairs, provides free period products in the women’s bathrooms throughout the building. The students ensure that the boxes are filled while the Office of Student Affairs purchases and maintains the inventory.
  • Barristers’ Ball is the Student Bar Association’s annual signature formal event. It recognizes all the work put into the year by the students and provides a highlight to celebrate the end of another great year.

So, if all this is “by the students and for the students,” what do I even do around here?

Well, I work to make it all happen. At the beginning of each academic year, I provide training to the more than 150 student leaders, going over policies and procedures to help them think about and plan these events. Working with law school colleagues, I organize the students (or the events) so that we avoid major scheduling conflicts, reserve spaces for their meetings, coordinate complimentary parking for their guests, help track their budgets, and process reimbursements and payments, among other things. In my experience, you never get to know people better than by working on a project with them, and it’s one of my favorite things to get to see a new idea blossom into a successful community event (looking at you, SBA Chili Cook-off!)

Our student-run organizations foster connections and enrich our Law School, and we, in turn, do our best to support their efforts to reach their own goals. We do this because, ultimately, national research and local experience show that the more that our students engage with each other, the more they feel they belong to our law school culture—and, by extension, in the legal profession as a whole.

[1] Give Chickering’s seven vectors or Astin’s theory of involvement a good Google. They help form the foundation of student development theory.

[2] Registered student organizations (RSOs) are groups that are completely voluntary and where students do not receive any sort of academic credit for their work. So law journals, moot court, and client skills work typically fall outside this category. The Public Interest Law Society, by contrast to both these co-curricular organizations and RSOs, falls into what might be called a department-sponsored organization category.

Continue ReadingBy the Students, For the Students

Congratulations to WAAL Scholarship Winners Carson, Jordan, and Medcalf

On Thursday, September 22, 2022, the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers (WAAL) honored three Marquette University Law School students with scholarship awards.

VelanDale Scholarship
WAAL is proud to honor the career and legacy of the late Vel and Dale Phillips for the last thirty-two years. In 1990, WAAL established a scholarship in the name of the late W. Dale Phillips to provide scholarships to African-American law students at Wisconsin’s two law schools, Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin. In 2004, WAAL proudly renamed the scholarship the VelanDale Scholarship Award to include and honor Vel Phillips’ outstanding accomplishments. Vel Phillips passed away in 2018 and Dale in 1988, but their community work and legacy will forever live on. Each year, WAAL awards two law students from our law schools in Wisconsin with this honor.

This year’s award winners are Carolyn Carson (3L) and Josiah Jordan (2L).

head shot of dark-skinned woman with curly hair and a big smile, wearing a white shirt and black suit jacket
Carolyn Carson, 3L

Carolyn Carson is a 3L. She has been a Law Clerk at Stafford Rosenbaum since the sumnmer. Carson, who is interested in business law, is a member of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers (WAAL). She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Valparaiso University, where she double-majored in Communication and Spanish. She received her MBA from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; while there, she placed 1st at the International Ethics Case Competition.

Carson said her proudest professional moment was winning the Brewed Ideas Challenge, a Marquette University version of Shark Tank. Carson’s pitch was based on a haircare business she and her mother started called Nubian’s Way.

Continue ReadingCongratulations to WAAL Scholarship Winners Carson, Jordan, and Medcalf