At the inaugural commencement exercises of the Elon University School of Law, 107 members of the charter class received their Juris Doctor degrees, marking a major milestone for the school founded on the principle that a legal education should prepare students to be not only excellent lawyers but also leaders in their communities.
Held May 24 at The Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro, Elon Law’s inaugural commencement ceremony celebrated the achievements of the charter class in shaping the character of the law school and contributing to the well-being of communities across North Carolina.
David Gergen, adviser to four United States presidents, Director of the Center for Public Leadership and Professor of Public Service at the Harvard Kennedy School, one of the country’s preeminent political commentators, and chair of Elon University’s Law School Advisory Board, delivered the commencement address.
In his remarks, Gergen noted that the school would not have succeeded without a series of remarkable contributions from the charter class, saying, “All of you now have shown us your wisdom, your courage, your service to others and your dedication to leadership. You have those qualities deep within you. You have proven that to all of us. What we ask of you now is to remember who you are and remember to give back, and we will all remain proud of you for the rest of our lives.”
Noel L. Allen, a member of the Elon University Board of Trustees and the Law School Advisory Board, provided welcoming remarks at the ceremony, expressing the pride and enthusiasm that founding supporters of the law school felt in witnessing the inaugural commencement exercises.
Allen highlighted two important contributors in particular, saying, “Two people who embody the vision of leadership and generosity essential to this endeavor, this law school, are Jim Melvin, former Mayor of Greensboro and President of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, and Leary Davis, founding Dean Emeritus of the law school.”
Melanie Y. Crenshaw, selected by her classmates to deliver the student address, highlighted the unique experience of the charter class in helping to build the law school’s student organizations and its relationships with the legal profession, saying, “We have begun to put Elon Law on the map and as we go into the legal community we will continue to bring pride to Elon. ”
Crenshaw expressed gratitude on behalf of the charter class, for all those who had supported them over the past three years, including family members, founding supporters of the school, and their teachers both inside and outside the law school, saying, “In our professors we have found mentors who will be there for us when we have questions about navigating this new world we are entering. They have given us examples of practitioners who love the law and their respect for the law has not been lost in our training. While their methods may have varied, I have never doubted that the person standing in the front of the room wanted the best for me and from me.”
George R. Johnson, Jr., Dean of the Elon University School of Law, presented the first annual David Gergen Award for Leadership and Professionalism to charter class graduate Holly J. Greeson, saying, “Ms. Greeson’s outstanding record of service within the law school and beyond, coupled with a strong academic performance, marks her as a clear choice for the initial David Gergen Award.”
David Gergen received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony, presented by Robert E. Long, Jr., a member of the Elon University Board of Trustees and Elon’s Law School Advisory Board.
Conferred by Elon University President Leo M. Lambert, the honorary degree recognizes Gergen for his remarkable and lasting contributions to the governance of the United States and to the civic health of the nation. The citation for the degree states, “David Gergen has been an active participant in American national life at the highest levels and a model of excellence in political leadership for more than forty years. At a time when the strident tenor of American politics seems to threaten the capacity of government to address even the most urgent of national priorities, Mr. Gergen’s moderating views and sonorous voice have become indispensable parts of the nation’s public conversation.”
In his charge to the graduating class, concluding the ceremony, Lambert said, “I want to tell you how deeply grateful I am for your historic contributions to the founding of this law school, for helping it become better and stronger, and especially for your pioneering spirit. You helped found a law school and that is an important life achievement.
Lambert continued, “Today, you are charged to use your knowledge for justice, your intelligence in the pursuit of goodness, your keen minds for seeking truth, your understanding of the complex in the cause of building a better society, your discernment for making fair decisions, your leadership in the cause of peace making. This is what your alma mater expects of you. Good luck and god speed.”