As the members of the Class of 2017 celebrated their graduation, Judge Lucy Haeran Koh urged them to think about the people who have played important roles in their lives. She shared how the example set by her grandmother and parents continues to inspire and guide her.
“We learn not only from Socratic dialogues in the classroom, but also from the lives led by those we love,” she said in her remarks at the Law School’s May 14 Diploma Ceremony. “We hope to learn from mistakes, stand back up after failures, and remember that we are here because of those before us who helped build a more secure family, a more perfect union, and a better world.”
Koh shared family stories as well as observations about the impact of technology on the law in her address to approximately 260 J.D. and LL.M. graduates who gathered with family members and friends for the event at the Martha Wren Briggs Amphitheatre beside Lake Matoaka.
During her tenure as a federal district court judge for the Northern District of California, Koh has presided over a number of high-profile legal suits involving Silicon Valley companies. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she is the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants and is the first person of Korean descent to serve as a U.S district court judge.
Koh described her grandmother as “a person of utmost cultural traditionalism yet sheer feistiness.” Her grandfather, she told the audience, “never stepped foot in a kitchen, poured himself a glass of water or ate leftovers.” Koh once asked her grandmother for whom she voted, and she recalled her succinct reply: “The Women.”
It was during a trip to Colonial Williamsburg while Koh was in college that her mother first shared the details of the perilous two-week trek she made as a 10-year-old from North Korea to South Korea. Her mother recounted how she became seriously ill as she made her way over the mountains. She evaded notice whenever she saw North Korean authorities by dropping to the ground and pretending to be "a local kid” playing jacks.
Koh said that her mother is “a very quiet and private person,” but there was something about "walking Williamsburg's lush green landscape" that conjured up memories of that long-ago journey. “I'm not sure how you should feel about the fact that your town reminds my mom of North Korea,” Koh wryly observed.
Her mother became a high-school chemistry teacher and later earned a Ph.D. after emigrating to the U.S. She became a professor, raised three children with her husband, and also worked alongside him at the family’s small businesses.
Koh described her father’s enthusiasm for current events and history. He read three newspapers each day, avidly followed local and national news on television around the clock, and tried to visit every U.S. president’s boyhood home and library. As a young child, Koh walked beside her grandmother in a march organized by her father in Washington, D.C., to advocate for democracy in Korea.
His "dream job" would have been to be a high-school government or history teacher, but “as fate would have it,” Koh said, “he sold slurpees and beef jerky in Columbia, Maryland, then wigs and po-boy sandwiches in Vicksburg, Mississippi, then insurance and real estate in Norman, Oklahoma.”
When Koh had children, her parents provided "long hours of child care," making it possible for her and her husband to work the long hours required by their legal careers.
The Apple v. Samsung patent dispute has been among the most significant cases in Koh’s time as a judge. She recalled that her father learned he had only a short time to live on the same day the jury returned its verdict in the case in 2012.
“We are defined not just by our goals or skills," she told the audience, "but by our relationships that center us, help us reconcile ambition with humility, and remind us to stay true to the values and commitments we hold dear.”
Koh also noted that the legal world the graduates will encounter will involve many more technology-related issues than in the past.
The legal questions "about space, self-driving cars, and drones will be your questions to answer,” she told the graduates. “They remind us of how different the world is today from the one my grandmother and parents were born into, an ocean away.”
Koh concluded her remarks by urging the graduates to create a list "for safekeeping" of their values and commitments and to revisit the list from time to time in the coming years. “Identify what you hope to achieve," she said. "Identify what lines you are not willing to cross, identify when you will speak up or speak out, and identify what your responses will be if you are put to the test.”
Recipients of special awards at the Diploma Ceremony included:
Heidi W. Abbott J.D. ’91 received the Citizen-Lawyer Award. The award, the Law School Association's highest recognition, is given annually to a graduate or friend of the Law School who has made "a lifetime commitment to citizenship and leadership."
The Law School Association honored Bishop Garrison J.D. ’10 with the Taylor Reveley Award. The award recognizes outstanding commitment to public service by an alumnus or alumna of the Law School who has graduated within the previous 10 years.
Sarah F. Kellam, Associate Dean for Development and Alumni Affairs, received the John Marshall Award, conferred on a member of the Law School faculty or staff who has demonstrated character, leadership, and a spirit of selfless service to the Law School community.
The Class of 2017 honored Professor Stacy Kern-Scheerer with the Walter L. Williams, Jr., Teaching Award, given by each graduating class to a member of the faculty in recognition of outstanding teaching.
The McGlothlin Faculty Teaching Award was conferred upon Professor Paul Marcus. James W. McGlothlin '62, J.D. '64, LL.D. '00 and Frances Gibson McGlothlin '66 established the award in 2016 with a generous endowment to the Law School and the Mason School of Business to recognize innovative, excellent educators who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to teaching.
Andrew J. Pecoraro J.D. ’17 received the Lawrence W. I'Anson Award, the highest award given to a student by the Law School’s faculty. The award goes to a member of the graduating class who shows strong evidence of great professional promise through scholarship, character, and leadership.
The Law School Association honored Ajinur U. Setiwaldi J.D. 17 with the Thurgood Marshall Award for distinguished pro bono work. The award is given to a member of the graduating class who exhibits the ideals of distinguished public service exemplified by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993).
Christina L. Wentworth J.D. ’17 received the George Wythe Award, conferred by the Law School upon a graduating student for selfless service. The award is named in honor of George Wythe (1726-1806), William & Mary's - and the nation's - first professor of law.
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