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May 10, 2017

Every spring, the University of Kentucky College of Law hosts its commencement ceremony. Though the commencement format may rarely change, there is noticeable difference in seeing how each graduating class leaves its own unique mark.

Friday, May 5, was dedicated to celebrating the Class of 2017. 113 eager law students walked across the stage in the Singletary Center for the Arts ready to claim their award for three years of hard work: a UK Law diploma.

“Today is a day of joy – for graduates and for all of us here today. We all share your sense of accomplishment, your sense of relief, and your sense of anticipation about the future,” said David A. Brennen, Dean at UK Law.

Dean Brennen went on to note the many accomplishments of this remarkable class. In just three years, these students achieved the extraordinary:

  • Law and business students volunteered in the VITA clinic to assist in preparing hundreds of tax returns for low-income taxpayers, collectively saving clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax preparation fees.

  • Students competed in numerous co-curricular legal skills enhancement activities, such as the 25th Annual Duberstein Moot Court Competition in Queens, NY; the National Trial Competition Regional Tournament in St. Louis, MO; the Annual Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna, Austria; and the 2016 Kentucky Intrastate Mock Trial Competition in Louisville, where UK Law won the title of best advocates in Kentucky.

  • During spring break, students provided pro bono legal services in underserved areas of Eastern Kentucky.

  • The student-run law journals hosted legal symposia, including the Kentucky Law Journal’s symposium on the 30-Year History of Batson v. Commonwealth and the Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture and Natural Resources Law Symposium entitled, “Faces of the Bluegrass.”

  • Members of the Women’s Law Caucus launched a new lecture series entitled, “Inspirational Women in the Law,” to provide students with access to prominent women attorneys and judges who can serve as an inspiration to both young women and men entering the legal profession.

  • Finally, members of the graduating class of 2017 spent election night providing live analyses regarding significant election law issues in Kentucky and across the nation through their Election Analysis Blog; auctioned off two handmade barrel tops to raise money to fight pediatric cancer; utilized their legal education to teach real-life lessons in law and government to high school students through StreetLaw; and partnered with a local non-profit to bring puppies to the law school to help students relax before finals, while also creating an opportunity for the puppies to be adopted.

Through all of these activities, the Class of 2017 demonstrated an outward-focus that will continue to serve them as they begin their careers in law. As a further demonstration of a special type of commitment to UK Law, the Class of 2017 came together to “give back.” As a result of financial donations by the class, artwork will be placed in the new law building.

Cody Barnett, as the highest-ranked student of the class, gave the greetings for the graduates.

“After three long years we have reached this milestone. Think of this moment as the start of a new adventure,” said Barnett. He went on to give his classmates words of advice as they each embark on a new path.

William R. Garmer, attorney at Garmer & Prather, PLLC and President-Elect of the Kentucky Bar Association, spoke on behalf of the practicing bar, reminding the graduates with examples of the great impact of individuals throughout U.S. History who were lawyers. 

Allison Connelly, Director of the UK Legal Clinic and James and Mary Lassiter Professor of Law, was selected by the graduating students to deliver remarks on behalf of the UK Law faculty. She spoke about the Class of 2017 making a pledge for the greater good of their communities, our country, and our world.

“Today I challenge you to use your intellect and your voice for free. Use that legal voice because the path to justice always starts with one individual who says ‘that’s unfair.’ Use your voice to make a difference in the lives of those without a voice. Use your voice to stand up in a court of law and say I object. Because if you don’t object, bigotry wins, hate wins, corruption wins and we all lose. We all lose,” said Prof. Connelly.

The faculty selected Nealy Williams as the 2016 Faculty Cup Recipient, and Dean Brennen presented her with an engraved silver julep cup during the presentation of awards. The Faculty Cup recognizes a graduating student whose endeavors, both in and out of the classroom, made the law school a more interesting place in which to teach and a more pleasant place for faculty and students alike.

Dean Brennen recognized those students in the running, based on grade point averages through the fall 2016 semester, for nomination and election to the Order of the Coif. When grades are submitted for the spring 2017 semester, the faculty will elect the students from the actual top 10% to the Order. The eligible students recognized were: Cody Barnett, Andrew Donovan, William Farmer, Donald Fortenbery, Olivia Keller, Alexander Magera, Emily McClure, Felisa Moore, Megan Niespodziany, James Sharp, Mary Tanner, and Alison Zietlin. He also acknowledged students who received the Pro Bono Award by completing at least 50 hours of independent law-related public service prior to graduation: Tyler Almeida, Houston A. Bragg, Hernan F. Campoy, Ismaila Ceesay, Amanda Goff Connors, Brittany Crouch, Victoria Dickson, Larry Doucet II, Christine Ficker, Brad Gordon, Jacqueline Nelson Graves, Mark Ashley Hatfield, Lauren Massie, Jenna McNeal, Adam Meyer, John Ritter, Amy Robertson, and Rafael Rodriguez.

Dean Brennen then presented members of the graduating class with certificates signifying attainment of the degree of Juris Doctor.

Noelle True, College of Law Alumni Association President, wrapped up the ceremony by welcoming the new graduates to the legal profession. She left them with a parting line from Robert Fulghum’s All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. So, congratulations. Welcome to the profession. And let’s stick together.”