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On Friday, May 14, the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law held a commencement ceremony to honor the Class of 2021 as well as the Class of 2020, which did not receive a commencement ceremony last year because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. Hundreds gathered – distanced and masked – at UK’s Memorial Coliseum for an in-person celebration, following a year marked by in-person and online classes and numerous virtual events. All graduates from the Class of 2020 were recognized in the commencement program, and nearly two dozen graduates from the class returned to campus to attend the ceremony.

“We have just completed a year like no other in our lives,” said UK Rosenberg Law Dean Mary J. Davis, who listed the myriad accomplishments of the classes of 2020 and 2021, which included organizing virtual symposia; partnering with the college to establish a student-led advisory board on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; and participating in moot court and trial competitions.

“Through all of these activities, the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 demonstrated outward focus that will continue to serve them as they begin their legal careers,” Davis said. “We wish you the best and we look forward to watching all of you, tomorrow’s leaders, have meaningful impact on the law, the profession, and the world beyond.”

Barrett Block of Lexington, Kentucky, provided remarks as the highest-ranked student in the Class of 2020.

“What makes the Rosenberg College of Law so special is the hearts of the people in it,” Block said. “We’re not just colleagues; we are friends. We put each other first and our work second. We genuinely care about each other, not because we are lawyers but because we are decent people. …It’s not what you do but who you do it for that really matters.”

Block recognized his mom, dad, and sister in his remarks. “I believe the greatest achievement today doesn’t belong to us — the ones wearing the caps and the gowns,” he said. “No. The greatest achievement today belongs to those who put us in the caps and gowns.”

Allie McNamara of Nashville, Tennessee, the highest-ranked student in the Class of 2021, provided remarks on behalf of her class.

“In August 2018, we could not have imagined the journey we would take. Over the next three years, we would experience three buildings, two names, and one global pandemic,” McNamara said, referring to spaces temporarily used by the law school during the renovation and expansion of the law building and the college’s name change in December 2019. In March 2020, all classes transitioned to online because of the global pandemic.

“We were all sent home and forced to do law school from home — something that had never been done before,” McNamara recalled. “…We finally got back in the building and it all culminates here at an in-person commencement for which I am completely and totally grateful. While the world appeared to stop, the Class of 2021 did not. We persevered and succeeded.”

The faculty selected Aaron Meek of Lexington, Kentucky, as the 2020 Faculty Cup Recipient and Maya S. Marshall of Atlanta, Georgia, as the 2021 Faculty Cup recipient. The Faculty Cup recognizes a graduating student whose endeavors, both in and outside of the classroom, made the law school a more interesting place for faculty and students alike. The recipients received an engraved silver julep cup presented by Dean Davis.

The Class of 2020 Order of the Coif inductees were recognized as well as the students in the Class of 2021 who are in the running for nomination and election to the Order of the Coif. The top 10 percent of the class will be inducted once all grades are final. Students from both classes were recognized with the Pro Bono Award for completing at least 50 hours of independent, law-related public service prior to graduation.  Collectively, students from the two classes completed over 2,150 hours of pro bono service to the public.

Students selected Blanche Bong Cook, Robert E. Harding Jr. Associate Professor of Law, to deliver commencement remarks on behalf of the faculty.

“These people in the front have won,” Cook said about the students seated on the floor of the auditorium. “They have won. They have achieved the victory. Despite all the trials and tribulations, they won. And they not only won for themselves, but they won for all of you.”

By Shawntaye Hopkins
June 17, 2021