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

Serving justice. Giving hope.

James and JanineIs there somebody you encountered only once who made you think about them often? In February, I came face-to-face with my somebody.

I was more than curious when Marquette colleague Dr. Theresa Tobin reached out to say that a student in her class asked to meet with me. Theresa, an associate professor of philosophy, directs the Education Preparedness Program (EPP). EPP provides academic support and career-building resources for incarcerated and recently released students through Marquette’s Center for Urban Research, Teaching, & Outreach, in collaboration with partnering academic institutions and community organizations. That’s how Theresa met James.

James Price. The name didn’t register with me when the three of us had lunch at Marquette Law School’s Tory Hill. James insisted on paying. The conversation flowed easily enough as the 40-something-year-old spoke about his current work, which necessarily touched on the tougher subject of his previous time in prison. Paroled after serving 27+ years for homicide, James is employed through 414LIFE, a Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin hospital-based violence interruption program that treats violence as a disease. The goal: to save lives by interrupting the cycle of violence.

Among the program’s team of formerly incarcerated men serving as Violence Interrupters, James has a dangerous job. He taps past neighborhood and criminal experience as well as EPP-acquired mediation skills to meet victims and offenders of gun violence where they’re at. He mentors, helping steer them toward positive changes. Many of these individuals are kids. But that’s what makes James ideal for the job.

As lunch continued, James described a 14-year-old convicted of killing a teen walking down the street, mistaking a cocked cap for membership in a rival gang. As I listened, inspired by how James puts himself in danger each day by working with these kids, it clicked. He was the 14-year-old I sentenced back in the early 1990s for that senseless crime. Over the past two decades, I would think about that young kid in my court who thoughtlessly did the unthinkable. A criminal to be punished for the safety of the community, who received the harshest sentence I had given to a juvenile. A kid I sent to prison, with no chance for parole for a quarter century.

Yes, I remembered James. He was the somebody who was always in the back of my mind because, really, how could I forget the reaction of a child who, after hearing his sentence, said his life was over?! While his name escaped me with time, I often wondered how he was doing and what had become of him. Apparently, he never forgot what I had said to him: that when/if he got out of prison, his life was not over. He could have a productive and meaningful future. James shared how those words meant nothing to him at the time but, with nothing but time to think — 27 years, 7 months and 14 days to be precise — he came to realize that it had been the first occasion somebody expressed any hope in him. That hope helped shape his prison time and compelled him to take a course in restorative justice, launching his new journey.

I will never forget that lunch — or the name James Price — grateful to know now that by serving justice while giving hope decades ago, I was blessed with the grace to inspire James to do the same.

We all know and are somebody for somebody who can make things right. God moments are real.

Continue ReadingServing justice. Giving hope.

Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competitors Advance to Quarterfinals

Congratulations to the students in the Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition who have moved on to the quarterfinal round of the competition. The students will be competing on Saturday, April 6 to determine which teams will be advancing to the semifinal round on Sunday, April 7.

The following teams will be competing in the quarterfinals:

Josephine Napolski & Sydney Wilcox
Deona Cathey & John Caucutt
Abby Nilsson & Mackenzie Retzlaff
Catherine Alles & Joseph Schimp
Danny Levandoski & Rodrigo Villalobos
Stephanie Dyer & Jay Rohwer
Andrew Madden & Josh Petersen
John Bolden & Dan Underwood

Congratulations to all the participants in the competition. We also very much appreciate the alumni and other attorneys who volunteer to grade briefs and serve as judges in the preliminary rounds. We appreciate their time and assistance every year.

The final round of the Jenkins competition will take place on Wednesday, April 10 at 6 PM.

We’re honored to welcome the following distinguished jurists who will judge the final round:

  • Hon. John K. Bush, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Hon. J.P. Stadtmueller (L’67), U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
  • Hon. Maria Lazar, Wisconsin Court of Appeals

The final competition will be held in the Lubar Center and is open to the public. A light dinner for registered guests will be available in the Zilber Forum from 5 to 5:45 PM. You can register for the final competition here.

Continue ReadingJenkins Honors Moot Court Competitors Advance to Quarterfinals