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Freer to Emory Law Grads: 'Don't set your priorities by default'

Emory University School of Law |
Commencement 2017
Congratulations to all graduates

426 Emory Law graduates received their diplomas during ceremonies held today on the lawn of Gambrell Hall.

“This occasion is always a momentous one, but this year’s ceremony bears a particular distinction, as we celebrate 100 years of Emory Law. You are a noteworthy group of lawyers – the Centennial graduating class,” Dean and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law Robert Schapiro reminded the 426 graduates before asking them to consider the role that Emory has played in their lives. 

“We are connected to our universities in their vital roles of enlightening public life, promoting the values of critical inquiry and reasoned discourse, and offering individuals the capacity to live fully considered lives.”

Alumni Association President John Maggio 96L, a partner at Condon & Forsyth LLP in New York City, then assured the graduates that the Emory community will always be with them, “Whether it is assisting you in finding the job that most suits you; mentoring you in being the best in whatever role you find yourself; and last but not to be overlooked, providing friendships throughout the United States and, indeed the world, in the many places your careers will bring you.”

Student Marshal was Bethany R. Nelson 17L, who will clerk for Judge Orinda Evans in the Northern District of Georgia after graduation and then plans to work for Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.  She won the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers Award for Outstanding Woman Graduate Committed to Practice in Georgia award.

Several other students were recognized for accomplishments and service:

Hamp Watson 17L, director of the Emory Law School Supreme Court Advocacy Program, received The Minister Gloria Jean Fowler Angel Award. Each year, to honor Miss Jean’s memory, the entire law school community – students, faculty and staff – bestows the Minister Gloria Jean Fowler Angel Award on the graduating student believed to most embody the qualities that made Miss Jean such an important part of the Emory Law community. 

Marcus Sandifer 17L was named Outstanding 3L Student. While accepting the award, he recalled not being admitted to Emory Law after his first application and reapplying later to be accepted. “I knew that if they let me crack the door and get into Emory Law, I would kick the door all the way in,” Sandifer said. He then encouraged his cohort to use the same type of fortitude to keep going through the difficult days ahead: “We’re all going to have some tough days, but for every tough day we’ll have an amazing day, if we just never forget why we came to law school. We deal with clients who put their lives in our hands, and it is our job to take care of them.”

Claudia Chafloque 17L received the LLM Leadership Award.  Claudia received her first degree in law in Mexico and worked for the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta prior to joining Emory Law.  This past year, she served as the LLM Representative to the SBA and is considering earning a JD next. 

Bruce A. Tupper 17L received The JM Leadership Award. Tupper is president of ICE Trade Vault, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).

Tia N. Favors 17L also received The JM Leadership Award. She is a senior benefits specialist in benefits administration at Emory University. 

Prasad Hurra 17L and Marcus Sandifer 17L presented the Graduating Class Gift.

30 years later and inspiring students still

Nearly 100 students chose to have a friend or family member participate in the hooding ceremony, a rite that marks the transfer from student to graduate. The rest were hooded by Frank Alexander, Sam Nunn Professor of Law and founding director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. The students are usually hooded by the person they chose as outstanding professor, but Robert Howell Hall Professor of Law Rich Freer, this year’s winner, explained why his colleague would be hooding instead: “I first had the privilege of addressing a graduating class over thirty years ago. On that occasion, shortly before I was to speak, my wife went into labor.  That was the shortest speech of my life.  We sped off to the hospital, and our daughter was born three hours later.  Now, after three decades, I have another happy exigency because of our children.  Our son will receive his MBA from Emory in a ceremony across campus to begin not long from now.  So, this may be the second shortest speech of my life, but I cherish this chance to speak with you.” Freer congratulated the students and then cautioned them not to set their post-bar priorities “by default,” saying, “Law is a demanding profession.  We run the risk of waking up years from now and saying, ‘Gee, I am a great lawyer but I’m a pretty lousy spouse, or parent, or friend.’ But that can happen only if we let it. If you want your family, spiritual life, or anything else to be important, you must make it important now. Hold yourself accountable each day. When your head hits the pillow each night, ask ‘am I closer to this goal – whatever it is – than I was this morning?’”

Associate Professor Tim Holbrook was also honored for excellence in teaching, received the Emory Williams Teaching Award. This award goes to faculty members who foster participation, inquiry and creative expression in the classroom; provide a model for teaching and scholarship; and serve as a friend and counselor to students. 

Degrees awarded included Doctor of Law, Doctor of Law and Master of Business Administration, Doctor of Law and Master of Theology, Juris Master, Master of Laws, and Doctor of Juridicial Science.