At the first in-person commencement exercise at the University of Miami since 2019, hundreds of University of Miami School of Law graduates accepted newly minted degrees and celebrated the close of an academic year that included lessons in resiliency and adaptability.
Three years ago, Jordan Rhodes could not have imagined attending many of her law school classes from her living room while still dressed in her pajamas. But the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed literally every aspect of life, forced the University of Miami School of Law student and her classmates to adapt to a new way of learning.
From taking courses that explored unprecedented and evolving legal issues to navigating court trials in solely online settings to dealing with the panic of losing Wi-Fi right before a crucial deadline, “this last year is not at all how we imagined it,” Rhodes said.
Wednesday, inside a stadium where spectators cheer the athleticism of Miami Hurricanes football players, Rhodes had her moment to bask in academic achievement. Wearing masks and sitting in chairs spaced four feet apart, she and hundreds of other students graduated from the University’s School of Law, accepting degrees that commencement speaker Laurie Silvers said will “fuel” the “rocket ship” they boarded when they started classes three years ago.
“What you feel today is more than relief at having finished something difficult,” Silvers—a School of Law alumna, philanthropist, and media entrepreneur—told the graduates. “It is the weight and the elation of joining a profession that wields great power and great responsibility.”
Held at Hard Rock Stadium to necessitate social distancing and to prevent any potential spread of COVID-19, the ceremony was the first of seven this week that will honor the University’s 3,842 graduates—a class of fledgling architects and engineers, musicians and nurses, scientists and entrepreneurs, lawyers and physicians—who completed a full academic year of living and learning under the shadow of the coronavirus.
During the 2020 Spring semester, the pandemic disrupted in-person learning, as students completed coursework online. But with strict protocols in place for the 2020-21 term, many students returned to campus.
And early Wednesday, with hundreds of family, friends, and guests in attendance, School of Law graduates were not only celebrated for becoming some of the nation’s newest legal eagles but also for what President Julio Frenk described as their ability to bounce back. “Living through this experience has given you the opportunity to learn and practice adaptability and resilience,” Frenk said. “No matter where your paths take you, I can guarantee you this: You will continue to use those skills. The clients and causes you serve will benefit from your ability to navigate uncertainty.”
Anthony E. Varona, School of Law dean and M. Minnette Massey Professor of Law, echoed those sentiments. “The best lawyers adjust quickly and nimbly to changing circumstances and new challenges. They help those who are less fortunate, they look out for their colleagues’ health and wellness, and they stand up against injustice and inequity in all of its forms,” he said. “The richly diverse Class of 2021 is all of these things and more. They went through a lot in this past year, persevered, and prevailed. They’re now stronger for it, and are destined for remarkable careers full of achievement, service, and meaning.”
Silvers, the incoming chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, reminded graduates that they are living in a world where knowledge that doubles every 12 hours can create a vast amount of information that can, at times, be “loud,” “distracting,” and “overwhelming.”
“But let’s face it,” she said, “for anyone who has taken half a dozen arcane 60-page legal decisions and turned them into a five-minute closing statement, sifting through the noise becomes, well, second nature.”
She described the law degree they earned as a “ticket for life,” telling them that what that life looks like from here on out is entirely up to them.
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