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Congressman John Lewis Highlights 2016 Commencement Ceremony

News Posted on May 17, 2016

Congressman John Lewis, an iconic leader of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, delivered a rousing address at the UC Davis School of Law 2016 Commencement Ceremony held May 14 at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

Commencement 2016

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"Today is your day," Congressman Lewis told the members of the King Hall Class of 2016. "Enjoy it. Tomorrow you must be prepared to roll up your sleeves because the world is waiting for smart, talented men and women to lead each one of us to a better place. You can do it, and you must do it!"

A total of 140 JD and 62 LLM students participated in the ceremony, which nearly filled to capacity the 1,800-seat Mondavi Center and drew coverage in the Sacramento Bee and KXTV in Sacramento. Also delivering remarks were UC Davis Acting Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter, Dean Kevin R. Johnson, Professor David Horton, and Greg Agron '16. The ceremony included the presentation of the Law School Medal for outstanding academic achievement to Amanda Whitney '16.

In his brief remarks, Dean Johnson welcomed the family and friends of the Class of 2016 and praised the graduating class.  More than half completed the Law School's Public Service program, performing more than 15,000 total hours of service for those in need, he said.  "A great strength of this nation is its dedication to equality, liberty, and justice built upon the rule of law," said Dean Johnson. "Today, we graduate a class devoted to those principles and to making them a reality."

Dean Johnson also recognized the Master of Laws graduates from Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.   "All of them added to the excellence that is King Hall."

Student speaker Greg Agron talked about the power that he and his classmates would have as attorneys and the importance of using it to benefit society.  "I leave King Hall today, but I refuse to let King Hall leave me," said Agron. "I vow to ask each day that I am beyond these gates: What difference have I made with this power?"

Professor Horton said that although "the practice of law is ceaselessly challenging," the Class of 2016 had proven its ability to persevere.  "The very perseverance that brought you to this auditorium today also holds the seeds of your future success.  From this day forward it will be my tremendous privilege to follow the arc of your careers, and to be able to say I knew you way back when."

Acting Chancellor Hexter, a classics scholar with degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, read from the poetry of Praxilla of Sicyon and William Wordsworth as inspiring examples of what it means to "have the courage of your own convictions." Hexter also introduced Congressman Lewis, calling him the "conscience of Congress" and a "genuine American hero and moral leader."

Congressman Lewis, one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights movement and an outspoken advocate for social justice throughout his long career, shared memories of marching and speaking alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and talked about the important role attorneys have played in working for social change.

"I gave a little blood on the Edmund Pettis Bridge," Lewis said of the march on Selma, Alabama in 1965, when he was beaten and arrested by police while protesting segregation.  "I thought I was going to die.  But somehow, some way, a group of lawyers wrote the Voting Rights Act. Congress passed it, and President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law."

"As young lawyers you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate to get in trouble," said Lewis. "When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you must stand up, speak up, and speak out. Use the law!"