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School of Law Honors Graduates at 2023 Commencement Ceremony The Washington and Lee University School of Law celebrated its 168th commencement on Friday, May 12, awarding 106 juris doctor degrees.

Law-Story-Header-scaled School of Law Honors Graduates at 2023 Commencement CeremonyLaw Class of 2023

The Washington and Lee University School of Law celebrated its 168th commencement on Friday, May 12, awarding 106 juris doctor degrees.

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W&L President Will Dudley welcomed the graduates and their families gathered on the front lawn between the University Chapel and the Colonnade, an apt setting for remarks that were rich in the recollection of the law school’s long history as well as the history of this particular class. President Dudley noted that the Law Class of 2023 arrived in the fall of 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing, and he complimented them for persevering through a first year of law school unlike any before it.

“The tradition of excellence at the Washington and Lee School of Law stretches backward more than 150 years, but it also aspires ever forward, in keeping with our motto—non incautus future—not unmindful of the future,” said President Dudley. “You are all a part of this tradition.  Take W&L—the place, the people, and the lessons learned—with you, into the world, and you and the world will be better for it.”

Melanie D. Wilson, Dean of the Law School, followed President Dudley to the podium. Dean Wilson recounted by name many of the students and accomplishments that she would remember from her first year leading the law school.

“This class exhibits a rare community spirit mixed with kindness and tenacity that has allowed you to traverse three really tough years under unusual conditions,” said Dean Wilson.  “And that journey makes this day all the more special.”

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After the graduates were awarded their degrees, Dean Wilson introduced Justice Cleo Powell as this year’s commencement speaker. A trailblazer throughout her career, Justice Powell was the first Black woman elected to the Commonwealth’s highest court and the first Black woman to serve at every level of Virginia’s state court system, beginning in 1992 when she joined the 12th Judicial Circuit as a general district and circuit judge in Chesterfield County. She was named to the Virginia Court of Appeals in 2008 and then was elected by the Virginia Legislature to the Supreme Court in 2011.

Justice Powell noted at the outset of her speech that “few things give me as much pleasure as watching new lawyers join the profession that has brought me so much satisfaction for the past 41 years.” But as satisfying as that career has been, Justice Powell cautioned that the Law Class of 2023 enters the profession during a challenging time for the nation, a time marked by the inability to communicate and growing lack of tolerance. However, she also noted that lawyers are uniquely trained for this environment.

“And as you deal with your client’s issues, you will have an opportunity and an obligation to lower the volume on the clamoring noise, to calm their fears, to reintroduce civility, to bring reason to bear,” said Justice Powell.

Justice Powell also acknowledged the shifting terrain of the law, with once settled law becoming disturbed as a new generation of lawyers looks at the world through a different lens, even as they do their sworn duty to uphold the rule of law.

“I challenge you to so live that in years to come you will look back and see your fingerprints all over a world left better because you were in it,” she said.

Following Thomas’s remarks, third-year class officers Ann Katherine Sherman and Wade Brelin presented Justice Powell with a walking stick, traditionally given to students at the awards ceremony preceding graduation. The walking stick, or cane, originated in the 1920s as a way to distinguish third-year law students on campus. At that time, only two years of law school were required, and the walking stick served as a way to reward and honor those students who stayed for a third year.

Graduation festivities began Thursday with the annual awards ceremony, which was held in Holekamp Gym. Three students graduated summa cum laude, 16 graduated magna cum laude, and 14 graduated cum laude. Eleven students were named to Order of the Coif, an honorary scholastic society that encourages excellence in legal education. A list of honors and awards appears below.

The Student Bar Association Teacher of the Year and Staff Member of the Year award were also presented at the awards ceremony. Allison Weiss was named Teacher of the Year, and Jane Pultz won the staff award.

Special honors at Friday’s awards ceremony went to the following students:

Jessica Mika Matsuda – John W. Davis Prize for Law (highest cumulative grade point average)

Colin John Manchester– American Bankruptcy Institute Medal (excellence in study of bankruptcy law)

Joseph M. Aminov & Lara Nicole Morris – Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Commercial Law Award (excellence in Commercial Law)

Jarod Christopher Dye – Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Award (effective trial advocacy)

Jessica Mika Matsuda – A. H. McLeod-Ross Malone Oral Advocacy Award (distinction in oral advocacy)

Dylan S. Jarvis & Lara Nicole Morris – Frederic L. Kirgis Jr. International Law Award (excellence in international law)

Christina Jane Fallon – Virginia Bar Family Law Section Award (excellence in the area of family law)

Alicia F. Ochsner Utt – Barry Sullivan Constitutional Law Award (excellence in constitutional law)

Benjamin Michael Halligan & Kellen Elizabeth Spradlin – James W. H. Stewart Tax Law Award (excellence in tax law)

Mallory Rebecca Kostroff, Jessica Mika Matsuda & Samuel D. Romano – Thomas Carl Damewood Evidence Award (excellence in the area of evidence)

Jessica Mika Matsuda & Samuel D. Romano – Criminal Law Award (excellence in courses of criminal law)

Catherine I. Bulger & Lara Nicole Morris – Business Law Award (excellence in courses of business law)

Samuel A. Adams – Administrative Law Award (excellence in courses of administrative law)

Jessica Mika Matsuda – Clinical Legal Education Association Award (outstanding clinic student)

Brenna M. Rosen – Clinical Legal Education Association Outstanding Externship Award (outstanding externship student)

Adam Thomas Kimelman – Charles V. Laughlin Award (outstanding contribution to moot court program)

Brighid Ann O’Donoghue – Student Bar Association President Award (recognition for services as President of the Student Bar Association)

Christina Jane Fallon & Caroline Jane Barbara Kerr – The Washington and Lee School of Law Women’s Law Award (outstanding contribution to women in the law)

Kobie Justin Crosley & Jessica Mika Matsuda – Calhoun Bond University Service Award (significant contribution to the University community)

Kobie Justin Crosley & Jessica Mika Matsuda – Randall P. Bezanson Award (outstanding contribution to diversity in the life of the Law School community)

Kerin Rose Daly – Professionalism and Service Award (significant contribution of public service in the community)

Summa Cum Laude

  • Jessica Matsuda
  • Lara Morris
  • Molly O’Connell

Magna Cum Laude

  • William Chaskes
  • John Coffron
  • Audrey Curelop
  • Shanelle Doher
  • Christina Fallon
  • Maddie Hawkins
  • Sophia Henderson
  • Mallory Kostroff
  • Crawford Lewis
  • Grant McClernon
  • Andrew Nissensohn
  • Louis Rogers
  • Sam Romano
  • Kellen Spradlin
  • Alicia Ochsner Utt
  • Mary Beth Vaughan

Cum Laude

  • Erin Bagwell
  • Cate Bulger
  • Natalie Corban
  • Connor Donaldson
  • Ford Gassaway
  • Peyton Holahan
  • Colin Manchester
  • Justin Moffitt
  • Brighid O’Donoghue
  • Michelle Pomerantz
  • Anne Rodgers
  • Brenna Rosen
  • Alex Rowan
  • Leeden Rukstalis

Order of the Coif

  • John Coffron
  • Audrey Curelop
  • Shanelle Doher
  • Sica Matsuda
  • Grant McClernon
  • Lara Morris
  • Molly O’Connell
  • Louis Rogers
  • Sam Romano
  • Alicia Ochsner Utt
  • Mary Beth Vaughan

If you know a W&L member who has done great, accolade-worthy things, tell us about them! Nominate them for an accolade.