American University Washington College of Law celebrated more than 500 graduates today with a virtual ceremony and the law school’s first in-person commencement events since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The ceremony honored graduates from May 2021 and December and August 2020.
Commencement speaker Congressman Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told the graduates to “go and use the magnificent education” they had received at WCL. “You've got to bring us a more just America,” he said. Raskin, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, is a professor emeritus at WCL, where he taught Constitutional Law for more than a quarter century.
AU President Sylvia M. Burwell and Acting Provost Peter Starr also applauded the graduates and presented Raskin with his honorary degree.
About 325 graduates from both 2020 and 2021 took part in in-person processions, crossing the stage in Bender Arena, where they were welcomed by Burwell, Starr, Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw, and Washington College of Law Acting Dean Robert Dinerstein.
Dinerstein, in remarks during the virtual ceremony, told the graduates, “Although the period from March 2020 until now will be one that you and we will never forget, recognize that your legal education has encompassed a full three or four years in which you have had the opportunity to learn and hone your critical thinking, doctrinal knowledge, lawyering skills, capacity to learn, and professional values that will stand you in good stead throughout your legal careers.”
Raskin, who is currently serving his third term as the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, focused his commencement address on the theme of “partisanship and patriotism.” Raskin sits on the Judiciary, House Oversight, House Administration, and Rules Committees and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis and also served as the lead impeachment manager for the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. He told the graduates that the impeachment outcome got him thinking about the “role of partisanship in our history, in our government, and in our Constitution.”
He praised the “existence of political parties and the existence of political party competition” as “signs of vibrancy in our constitutional system.” But he warned, “The problem is when people elevate their devotion to their political party above their devotion to the Constitution itself or to the country or to the common good. That, I think, does become a dangerous thing.” Raskin said Americans are defined not by race, ethnicity, or religion but “unified by virtue of having one Constitution and all of the values and principles under it,” and that constitutional patriotism means both defending that Constitution and making it more democratic over time. Our historic assignment, he said, is to “continue the trajectory of democratic expansion and inclusion in America,” he said.
Today’s ceremony, hosted by Associate Dean David Jaffe, also featured a commencement address by graduate Joy Applewhite ’21. Anna Isernia ’21 sang the national anthem and Veronica Faison ’21 sang “Lift Every Voice.”