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Justice O’Connor Encourages 2004 Graduates to “Build Bridges”

Professors Richard Bierschbach and Marci Hamilton are former clerks to Justice O’Connor. They joined her for a mini-reunion before the ceremonies.

The week before commencement, graduating students, including Shulamis Peltz, celebrated on a boat ride in New York Harbor.

Clouds parted and the sky cleared on the first day of June, just in time to celebrate Cardozo’s 26th commencement, held in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The ceremony featured US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who, during a rousing commencement address, encouraged the class of 2004 to pursue careers in public service.

“Commit yourself to being a bridge builder,” O’Connor urged, citing her own inspiring career as an attorney, a state senator, and the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

“It’s a day of joy for everyone,” O’Connor said, setting the tone for a ceremony filled with cheers, waves, and the flash of cameras, at which 337 men and women were awarded J.D. degrees and 45 received LL.M. degrees. Justice O’Connor received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, the first to be awarded by Yeshiva University during a Cardozo commencement.

Dean David Rudenstine cited O’Connor for her jurisprudence, her character, and her exceptional capacity as a judge. Yeshiva University President Richard Joel echoed the sentiments and praised the justice for her accomplishments, including expanding possibilities for women. “Your work has changed all our lives,” President Joel said.

Justice O’Connor discussed the difficulties she faced after graduating from Stanford Law School when she was offered a position as a legal secretary, not as a lawyer.

“My career in public service was born of necessity,” O’Connor said. This obstacle, however, led her down a fulfilling path of public service.

“Life as a public servant was more interesting; the encouragement and guidance from mentors was more genuine,” O’Connor said. She added, “At every step of the way, I felt the thrill of doing something right for reasons that were good.”

Overcoming obstacles and responding to change were themes graduate Michael Glasser discussed in his speech on behalf of the class of 2004. The class began school just before 9/11 and, from Cardozo’s location on Fifth Avenue, could watch the towers burning. “Our school, our lives, and our worlds have changed,” Glasser said, adding that he felt the class was now strong enough to handle any situation.

This year’s commencement coincided with the 25th reunion of the class of 1979, and many alumni from Cardozo’s first graduating class donned robes and marched in the ceremony. Dean Rudenstine praised them for taking a chance on Cardozo during a time when there were no 2Ls or 3Ls and the Law School’s history was in the making.