LSU Law honored and celebrated the Class of 2023 at commencement on Saturday, May 20, in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus.
“Back in August 2020, you started on your journey at one of the most dynamic times I can recall for a person to enter law school. Given the 2020 to 2023 time frame, this class has ridden quite a roller coaster, hasn’t it?” LSU Law Interim Dean Lee Ann Wheelis Lockridge said in her opening remarks. “Congratulations to all of you for staying the course and arriving right here at this very moment. You will soon join a long line of distinguished graduates of the Paul M. Hebert Law Center and—I don’t say this lightly—they are some of the best lawyers in the country as well as leaders in government, business, nonprofits, and other endeavors, and I trust that you will also go forth and do great things using your legal education and training.”
The legal profession is rapidly changing, Lockridge noted, and at a much quicker pace than it was only a few decades ago. Nonetheless, she assured the Class of 2023 graduates that their LSU Law education, along with the unique challenges they successfully overcame to earn their degree, has prepared them to thrive in an ever-evolving profession and world.
“The effects will be enormous and the way you practice law will be very different in time from how I practiced law. It’s not yet true, but it will be, and your work is still going to be challenging and interesting—it’s just going to be different,” she said. “So you, and we, will continue to do what we’ve been doing all along: adapting in the face of change, while being resilient and resolute, as we keep taking each next step in life’s path.”
Lockridge also recognized LSU Law Professor Darlene Goring, who was voted the 2022-23 Professor of the Year by the Student Bar Association at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center and participated in the ceremonial hooding of the graduates along with Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Jake Henry.
“In their selection of Professor Goring as Professor of the Year, the SBA said, ‘Being in a class with Professor Goring is equivalent to watching an artist perform on a grand stage. For Professor Goring, the law is her art and every law student is her canvas,’” Lockridge said, noting Goring has served on the LSU Law faculty since 2002.
In his Commencement Address, LSU Law Professor and LSU President Emeritus Thomas C. Galligan Jr. said he drew inspiration for the theme of his speech from the song “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” by Steve Earle.
“Now, some of you may think the theme—not being satisfied—is crazy. A commencement speaker should tell you to be happy, be content, be proud of what you have done,” Galligan said. “But what I am going to tell you is don’t be content—don’t be satisfied.”
Galligan urged the graduates to never allow themselves to be entirely satisfied with current conditions, and to always look for opportunities to further improve the legal profession and their communities.
“If I can borrow from the Marvel Universe, you will be a guardian of the galaxy of justice. It is up to you and all of us as lawyers to keep that ideal of justice in mind,” Galligan said. “Justice requires fairness and we must work to make the system fair.”
Midway through his address, Galligan paused to recognize retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice and LSU Law Class of 1969 alumna Bernette Joshua Johnson, who was in attendance with several family members to celebrate the graduation of her granddaughter, Neyah Isis Johnson. Galligan noted the retired judge and Camille Gray were the first two Black female graduates in LSU Law history, and that she would go on to serve as the first Black chief justice of the state’s high court.
As the 2022-23 SBA Executive President, Neyah Isis Johnson had the privilege of delivering the Student Welcome, during which she thanked her classmates for electing her as the first Black female to serve in the role in LSU Law history.
“To my fellow classmates, I know the journey has not been easy and it is not over yet. The legal profession is a demanding one, and it requires hard work and sacrifice. But I have no doubt that each and every one of us is up to the task,” Johnson told her classmates. “We have been given the tools to succeed and it is up to us to use them and make a difference in the world. As we go forth from this place, let us not forget the values that brought us here. Let us remember the importance of integrity, of justice, and of compassion. Let us use the skills and knowledge we have gained to serve others, defend the vulnerable, and to make the world a better place.”
Also in his Commencement Address, Galligan recognized and personally thanked Interim Dean Lockridge, who was selected to serve in the position after Galligan was tapped to lead LSU as interim president at the outset of 2020 (the LSU Board of Supervisors would later formally remove the interim from the title).
“At that end of that year and half sojourn, I decided I wanted to come back to the Law Center as a full-time faculty member. I wanted once again to do the job I had come here to do in 1986. Thus, Lee Ann ended up with the job of dean for three-and-a-half years. She has done the job way longer than expected, and she has been absolutely fantastic,” Galligan said.
Along with successfully guiding LSU Law through the challenges that came with the pandemic, Lockridge’s tenure has resulted in increased enrollment and student scholarship support, as well as higher median academic credentials of incoming students, additional clinics, enhanced curriculum, updated classroom technology, and a new courtroom at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center.
“So, thank you, Lee Ann,” Galligan said. “Thank you as a friend who got to do what he wanted because of your dedication, and thank you as a colleague, who like everyone here today, owes you big time. When future generations look up institutional service in the LSU history book, Lee Ann’s picture as the paradigm of an institutional servant.”
After Alena Allen is formally installed as LSU Law dean in July, Lockridge will return to the LSU Law faculty and resume teaching full time. In her remarks, Lockridge acknowledged and thanked several of her colleagues on the faculty who are moving on from the Law Center. Professor Ed Richards, who has taught at the Law Center since 2002, has announced his retirement after 36 years of teaching and academic service. Professor Christina Sautter, who has served on the faculty since 2008, is joining the faculty at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Laws this fall. Professor Susan Tanner will join The University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law this fall, after teaching at LSU Law since the fall of 2020.
Honorary guests of the Class of 2023 Commencement included LSU Board of Supervisors Member James Williams and LSU Executive Vice President and Provost Roy Haggerty, who also congratulated the graduates in brief remarks. LSU Law Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Andrea Carroll read the role of graduates as they crossed the stage.
2022-23 3L Class President Ryan York delivered the Class Farewell, thanking the family members and friends of all the graduates for their invaluable support and encouragement. York also touched on the many challenges his classmates faced—and overcame—together, and said he is proud of the way they pulled together and supported one another throughout the past three years.
“These bonds and friendships helped us through countless hours of studying and helped us when we were overwhelmed by the problems and difficulties that law school presented. These bonds and friendships are the ones that made us smile and laugh throughout it all. While there’s so much emphasis on how competitive law school can be, the rigor and difficulty united us all. I think we can all say that we made a great choice in choosing to attend LSU Law for our legal education,” York said. “We were provided the opportunity to form genuine friendships that will last for a lifetime. As we graduate today, let’s focus on some of the opportunities that lie ahead. For example, we have the opportunity to form new relationships with other members of the legal community. Additionally, we get the opportunity to make a tremendous impact on society by using our law degrees to improve our communities and help others. In achieving these goals, we will show others the kinds of lawyers that LSU Law produces. Again, we’re saying farewell today to so many things, but we can be confident that we all have a brimming and bright legal career ahead of us because of the connections we have made these past three years and because of this great school.”