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Commencement 2006

New York Law School Celebrates its 114th Commencement
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Quoting Winston Churchill, New York Law School’s commencement speaker Joel I. Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education, reminded the 455 members of the Class of 2006 that:

We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.

The value of service to others was a dominant theme of New York Law School’s 114th Commencement, held on May 2nd at Avery Fisher Hall.  The evening also was characterized by smiles and cheers from proud families and friends; praise for past accomplishments and advice for the future; remembrances of a dedicated and caring teacher, a highly regarded Trustee and a beloved student; excitement, pride, relief, and good wishes for the future.

Dean Richard A. Matasar began the evening by welcoming the graduates, their families and friends and the Old Guard, New York Law School alumni who graduated fifty or more years ago.   The entire auditorium rose for a standing ovation for the Law School’s oldest living graduate, Philip Reich ’25, who is 102 years old.

Referring to Mr. Reich’s graduation 81 years ago, Arthur N. Abbey ’59, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of New York Law School, said in his opening remarks, “I’m only 47 years out.  I’ve got a long way to go.”

Mr. Abbey told the graduates and assembled guests that both their commencement speaker, Joel I. Klein, and the late Philip M. Damashek, who was awarded the President’s Medal of Honor posthumously at the ceremony, embodied the motto of New York Law School: Learn Law. Take Action.

“Learning the law is an ongoing process,” Mr. Abbey said.  He told the graduates that how they use their knowledge to take action is an individual decision but all of them shared a commitment to the rule of law.  By maintaining high ethical standards, the graduates will serve both themselves and society well, Mr. Abbey commented.

Mr. Abbey asked the graduates to remember New York Law School in their future lives.  He said his involvement with the Law School as a Trustee was a very important and rewarding part of his life, and he urged the newest alumni to be active member of the Law School community by supporting the Law School financially and by participating in alumni events.

Associate Dean Stephen J. Ellman then presented five Otto Walter Distinguished Writing Awards to faculty members.  The award recipients were: Professors Arthur S. Leonard, David Schoenbrod and Richard K. Sherwin, and adjunct Professors Judith Bresler ’74 and Evan J. Wallach.  Student awards went to Shalom C. Stephens from the Evening Division and William Simmons from the Day Division.

Associate Dean Jethro K. Lieberman announced the names of the finalists for the Trustees’ Prize for the Highest Average.  The final awards will be made after all grades are complete in June.  The students in competition for the awards are: Marcey L. Grisby, Riki King, Natalie M. Porto, Matthew Evan Sadofsky, and Abigail Zigman from the Day Division; and Gregory Burns; Delia Regina Infantes, and Kerwin Louis Ledesna from the Evening Division.

Several other prizes were presented, including the Alfred L. Rose Award  for Excellence to Marcey L. Grigsby (Day Division) and Roberta Cohen (Evening Division); the Dean’s Award for Student Leadership to Kenneth W. Sussman and Justin A. Xenitelis; and the Class of 2006 Teaching Awards to Professors Robert Blecker and Aleta Estreicher.

Georgia Davies Graham (Day Division) and Patrick M. Turner (Evening Division) were the two student speakers.  Ms. Graham told her classmates that their Law School experience added up to 1,009 days and that real success in Law School consisted of “what you accomplish along the way.”

Mr. Turner, who worked as an electrical engineer while going to New York Law School, remembered the birth of his daughter just before finals in his second year. 

“I was briefing cases between contractions,” he said.  Mr. Turner added that “the law is dynamic and the world is crazy” and told his fellow students that they were “the next generation of agents of the court.”

Trustee Michael N. Vittorio presented the President’s Medal of Honor, awarded  posthumously to Philip M. Damashek , to Jonathan Damashek ’97, who said his father “loved being an attorney and tried to give back to his profession in any way he could.” 

Phillip Damashek was a highly regarded litigator in the field of personal injury and negligence law, a Managing Partner of Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek and Shott and President of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association from 1990 to 1991.  He served as a member of the Law School’s Board of Trustees from 1995 until his death earlier this year.

The graduation ceremony also included a remembrance of Professor Denise Morgan, who died in April 2006 at the age of 41, and Suzanne Altamore, a member of the Class of 2006 who passed away in September 2003.  Ms. Alatmore’s classmates in the Evening Division established the Suzanne Altamore Scholarship Fund in her memory.  Dean Matasar presented Altamore’s father with her framed diploma in one of the most touching moments of the commencement ceremony.

Trustee Kathleen Grimm’80, who is the Deputy Chancellor for Administration and Finance for the New York City Department of Education, introduced Joel Klein.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Mr. Klein began his legal career in 1973 as a law clerk, to Chief Judge David Bazelon on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and later to Justice Lewis Powell on the U.S. Supreme Court.  He then worked at a public interest law firm, the Mental Health Law Project, and went into private practice, focusing heavily on health care and constitutional litigation.   He also specialized in appellate advocacy, winning nine out of 11 cases he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In 1995, Mr. Klein was appointed deputy counsel to President William J. Clinton.  In 1997, he became assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division in the U.S. Justice Department.  Mr. Klein led landmark cases against Microsoft, WorldCom/Sprint, Visa/Mastercard, and General Electric.  Mr. Klein then served as chairman and chief executive officer of Bertelsman, Inc., one of the world’s largest media companies.  He became the first chancellor of the newly reorganized Department of Education in 2002.

“I’m honored to be recognized by this great and venerated Law School,” Mr. Klein said.  He added that whenever Kathleen Grimm speaks to him about New York Law School, “her pride is palpable.”

“What is it that’s so special; about a legal education?” Mr. Klein asked the audience, and added that “time and again America has called on her lawyers” to solve complex problems.

Mr. Klein outlined three qualities produced by a legal education: “a discipline of the mind” that is a very powerful tool; “a great respect for and grounding in ethics and integrity”; and “a deep respect for the rule of law mixed with a passion for justice.”

He told the graduates that they had great opportunities ahead of them, not all of them predictable.  “I grew up in public housing and ended up working in the most public house in America, the West Wing of the White House,” he said.

Mr. Klein commented that terrorism had changed the world and, in his opinion, made the Untied States more cynical.  As a result, today’s graduates not only have great opportunities to do good, but also face great challenges.

“You’re not just a lawyer,” he said.  “You’ve been given skills for leadership.  I think you have the skills, you have the passion, and you have the talent.”

Mr. Klein concluded his remarks with a famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

After awarding the diplomas and following a standing ovation for the graduates, Dean Matasar returned to the podium and, for the first time, addressed the Class of 2006 as “colleagues.”  He told them that their class embodied the core values of New York Law School because they embraced innovation, possessed character, integrity and professionalism, and shared a commitment to advance justice.   

The Dean urged the graduates to share their wisdom with the next generation of students, take pride in their institution, and find ways to give back to New York Law School.

“We are brimming with excitement for what you can accomplish,” Dean Matasar said, “and we expect great things from all of you.”