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'Ensure that people's rights don't suffer'

In his Commencement address to Elon University School of Law’s Class of 2016, Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit encouraged graduates to use their legal education to help "reason, law, and precedent triumph over might, caprice, and whim."

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Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit delivered the Commencement address to Elon Law's Class of 2016 on May 21, 2016.

PHOTO GALLERY: Elon University School of Law Commencement for the Class of 2016

For all of his professional successes in the practice of law, the case that brought Albert Diaz the deepest personal satisfaction was a pro bono matter involving $500 or so.

His client at the time, an immigrant from Mexico, asked Diaz for help a few years back in reclaiming wages owed after the man’s employer had let him go. The employer had until then refused to compensate the man. Diaz wrote a few letters, made a few phone calls to the North Carolina Department of Labor, and before long, a check arrived to settle the claim.

A short time later, Diaz’s client visited family in Mexico for the holidays and returned bearing gifts, including a beautiful wool blanket and Tequila. The gifts were the man’s show of gratitude for what Diaz had accomplished.

“That case, in short, was my ‘wow’ moment,” Diaz, today a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, told graduates of Elon University School of Law in a Saturday evening Commencement address. “Even though the dispute was over an amount of money that some might consider inconsequential, it’s why I became a lawyer. And it is why I’m proud to be a lawyer today.”

The story of Diaz’s pro bono work highlighted a broader message to the 88 graduates in Elon Law’s Class of 2016, who filled Alumni Gym on May 21, 2016, for a ceremony moved indoors in advance of evening storms that rumbled outside during the program. His penultimate message: “Use your newly acquired skills to ensure that people’s rights don’t suffer just because they are poor, or powerless, or unpopular.”

Introduced to graduates and their guests by Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman, Diaz is the first Hispanic member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. His nomination by President Barack Obama was confirmed by voice vote with bipartisan support of the two senators representing North Carolina at the time.

Diaz praised Elon Law for positioning itself at the forefront of a pivot in American legal education that is only now recognizing the need to emphasize professional skills development. Through its array of programs and experiential learning experience, Diaz said, Elon offers a variety of innovative vehicles for ensuring the practice readiness of its graduates.

He said he was also heartened by the commitment that Elon and its students show to the community through its various clinic programs. In North Carolina, 80 percent of the civil legal aid needs of the poor—whether it be in divorce, child custody, housing, consumer protection, employment, benefits, health, and domestic violence cases—go unmet.

“You are about to join a profession that we who sit on this dais love deeply,” Diaz said. “We of course do not view the law through rose-colored glasses. We know full well that the law is far from a perfect institution. Indeed, having studied it now for three years you too know that to be true.

“But despite its imperfections, the law remains a singular engine for change in our society, sometimes for the bad, but more often for the good.”

In his charge to graduates, Elon University President Leo M. Lambert (right) instructed the Class of 2016 to use its legal knowledge to advance justice, and their intelligence in pursuit of goodness.

Diaz previously served as a North Carolina Superior Court Judge with the distinction of being the first Hispanic Superior Court Judge in the state. Diaz also served as a Special Superior Court Judge in the North Carolina Business Court, which has a close association with Elon Law.

While a member of the U.S. Marines Corps and its Reserves, Diaz served as a prosecutor, defense lawyer and military judge for the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary and Appellate Judge for the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. He also practiced with Hunton & Williams in Charlotte after earning his Bachelor of Science in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, his Juris Doctorate from New York University School of Law and his Master of Science from Boston University.

The Commencement program featured remarks by class members Matthew Millisor and Aaron Rhoades Davis, as well as recognition of Marissa A. Kuzbyt, recipient of the 2016 David Gergen Award for Leadership and Professionalism.

Aaron Rhoades Davis L'16

“Each of us, no doubt, has a story about how we chose this pathway to a career in law. We each have people along the way that have inspired us, motivated us, provided for us, and even pushed us when we needed pushing, to strive for something more,” Davis said in the student address. “Maybe you witnessed a family member or another person in need who was unable to help themselves. Maybe someone close to you needed help solving a complex problem during trying times. Or maybe you or someone close to you was affected by some form of injustice. However it came to be, something and/or someone led you in this direction, and it led you to Elon.

“This was no mistake, but rather the perfect combination of conviction and timing, with the conviction being the commitment to tackle this worthwhile endeavor and the timing being evidenced by the relationships and connections made within our class.”

Millisor delivered welcoming remarks in his role as president of the Student Bar Association for 2015-2016. “Over the past three years we have all undergone tremendous change,” he said. “We have evolved into leaders, mentors, role models, advocates, and trusted confidants.

“We have formed bonds that can only and will only be understood by the 88 of us here today, and that is something I know I would not trade for anything.”

In his charge to graduates to conclude the program, Elon University President Leo M. Lambert implored the class to use its knowledge for justice, intelligence in the pursuit of goodness, and its understanding of the complex in the cause of creating a better society.

“While I know most of you did not attend Elon for your undergraduate years, I hope you will make room in your hearts for the Phoenix,” Lambert said. “We have faith in the promise of new beginnings, of persevering, and of rising above adversity. This is what we do at Elon.”

Members of the Elon University School of Law Class of 2016

Kaitlyn Brooke Bailey
B.S., East Carolina University

Joshua Daughtry Barefoot
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Joshua G. Berggrun
B.A., Ithaca College

ShaKeta Denise Berrie
B.S., North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Elizabeth Mary Bodine
B.S., Meredith College

Joshua R. Bonney
A.B., Elon University

Megan Elizabeth Boorsma
B.A., North Carolina State University

Joshua Lee Bowers
B.S., Appalachian State University

J. Shane Briggs
B.S., North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Blakeney Cherise Brown
B.A., Wake Forest University
MSL, Wake Forest University School of Law

Sarah Nicole Brown
B.A., Hollins University

Jonathan Bunker
B.S., East Carolina University

Britt A. Burch
B.A., Wake Forest University
MBA, Elon University

Justin Gary Byrd
B.S., East Carolina University

Michael Arthur Carpenter
B.S., East Carolina University

Elizabeth Ann Coltrane
B.A., Mary Baldwin College

Aaron Rhoades Davis
B.S., Greensboro College

Jaren G. Dickerson
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

John H.T. Dow III
B.A., Colgate University

James Patrick Ellington
B.S., Appalachian State University

Anne Noelle Evangelista
B.A., University of South Carolina

Thomas Mitchell Finch
B.A., College of William and Mary

Holly Kristen Ford
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Rebecca Olivia Forte
B.A., North Carolina State University

JoAnna Feneé Fox
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Evan Chase Freemyer
B.A., Appalachian State University

Mark Lee Funkhouser
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Morgan Leigh Furman
B.A., College of William and Mary

Salmeen Haque
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
M.P.H., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Andrew Eliezer Henkle
B.S., Guilford College

Camille Elyse Hill
A.B., Elon University

Victoria Lee Hinton
B.A., University of Virginia

Wayne Shore Hopper
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Kaitlyn Elizabeth Hynes
B.A., York College of Pennsylvania
M.A., University of Baltimore

Kelly Nicole Jones
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Daniel Philip Karlsson
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
M.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Matthew Brian Kaylor
B.A., Limestone College

Cameron Keen
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Korey Devin Kiger
B.A., Winston-Salem State University

Brian A. Korman
B.A., Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Marissa A. Kuzbyt
B.S., Methodist University

Elizabeth M. Lamb
B.A., Greensboro College

Daniel J. Lawall
B.S., Clemson University
M.S., George Washington University

Elizabeth Ann Leo
B.A., The State University of New York at Buffalo

G Alexander Lewis
B.S., North Carolina State University

Matthew Millisor L'16

Anne Vaughan Ligon
B.A., The College of William and Mary

Jaclyn A. Maffetore
B.A., Wake Forest University

Allanah Louise McClintock
B.S., Florida Gulf Coast University

Benjamin Russell McKaig
B.S., Wake Forest University

Karizza Villamin Mendoza
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jennifer Marie Meyer
A.B., Elon University

Morgan Louise Meyers
B.A., High Point University

Matthew James Millisor
B.S., East Carolina University

Laura Whitworth Milloway
B.F.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
M.S.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Deborah Anne Moy
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Stephanie Iris Murray
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
M.S., East Carolina University

Mackenzie Catherine Myers
B.A., Emory & Henry College

Stephanie Marie Neal
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Joni O’Neal Nichols
B.A., Alderson Broaddus College
MLS, West Virginia University

Michael F. Ohrenberger
B.S., Norwich University

Meghan Marie O’Keeffe
B.A., Bridgewater College

Diane Kristine Pappayliou
B.A., Davidson College

Stephanie Christine Petrich
A.B., Elon University

Courtney Nicole Pine
B.S., Averett University

Scheherazade Pittman
B.S., North Carolina State University
M.S., Fayetteville State University

Brittany Alexis Puckett
B.A., North Carolina State University

Austin Yates Raymond
B.A., Davidson College

Jessica Denise Richardson
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jocelyne Michelle Riehl
B.A., The University of Mount Union

Caitlin Marie Robinson
B.A., Washington College

Caolan J. Ronan
B.A., La Salle University

S. René Russell
B.F.A., The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Angelique Hope Ryan
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Brian Wallace Sharpe
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Casey Renee Simmons
B.A., Virginia Wesleyan College

Laura Patricia Sloane
B.S., Pennsylvania State University

William Earl Tyler Stewart
B.A., North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Jordan Alayna Stomean
B.S., Appalachian State University

Archie Lee Sumpter III
B.A., University of Alabama

John Tricoli
A.B., Elon University

Gonzalo Mastache Ventura III
B.S., Johnson and Wales University

Sean Phillip Walton
B.S., Hampton University
MBA, Hampton University

Brinson Carter White II
B.A., Hampden-Sydney College

Holly Ann Wilcox
B.A., University of Virginia

JaMonika Reneè Williams
B.A., College of William and Mary

Meghan Marie Williford
B.S., Appalachian State University

Kristie Nicole Young
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Diamond Desiré Zephir
B.S., Guilford College

 

Eric Townsend,
Staff
5/21/2016 10:00 PM