Dean Syverud, Judge Coleman Welcome Incoming JD and LLM Students at Matriculation Ceremony

Dean Kent Syverud and the Hon. Sharon Johnson Coleman, JD ’84, of the Northern District of Illinois, welcomed the 203 JD and 64 LLM students of the 146th class of the Washington University School of Law at the annual Matriculation Ceremony on August 20. 

In his comments, Dean Syverud began by telling the students that the ceremony marks a significant transition in their lives. “You are an incredible group of people, in many ways the most qualified and interesting in the history of this law school. You have done many wonderful things in your life, both in school and outside it, and that is why you were admitted here,” he said. “But today, for all but a small number of you, marks your first day as a professional in a professional school—the first day you are studying to be licensed by the government to be responsible professionally for the lives of others.”

Dean Syverud continued: “You will graduate in a remarkably short time (9 months for those of you who are LLM students, and 33 months for those of you who are JD students—and even 33 months here goes very fast.) Then almost all of you will be licensed attorneys, with clients who are people, governments, businesses, non-profit organizations. Your clients will often be in distress or in crisis; they will always be in need of hard work, and they will be counting on your professional help. You have just those few months to be ready for that really awesome responsibility, and your training starts today.”

Judge Coleman echoed those sentiments as she told the new students, “Your sense of professionalism begins today. Nourish it. Nurture it. Protect it. It is your most precious possession.” Acknowledging that a lot had changed since she was a student at Mudd Hall in the 1980s, Judge Coleman focused on what had not changed over the years—the need to “establish your legal reputation from day one, today, here, and throughout your law school career.”

She then encouraged students to “stay involved in some small way in your community, despite your law-school goals. Take part in sports. Get involved in volunteer opportunities. Don’t just be a law student, but be well-rounded.”

Judge Coleman also shared this professional advice: “The reputation of a lawyer who doesn’t keep his or her word will have a longer shelf life than a million-dollar verdict. Going the extra mile to address an issue or help an individual simply because it’s the right thing to do will make you stand out far more than any fancy law office.”

Finally, she added that she is “a person of faith” and that she believes “there’s no other explanation for a 13-year-old African American girl to declare that she’s going to be a judge, and then attend one of the top law schools in the nation, and then—against all odds—achieve that goal of becoming a judge.”

She concluded with a view of the profession of law as a higher calling. “I believe that the law is greater than winning, greater than a lucrative career,” she said. “And I believe that as a member of this amazing profession, as a member of the human race, I’m required to love justice, to have mercy, and to walk humbly.”

The ceremony was part of the week-long Orientation for J.D. students and the two-week Orientation for LL.M. students.