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Commencement 2018: “Keep An Open Mind”

Debra Yang '85, former US Attorney and a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, addressed the graduates at this year's Commencement exercises.

May 25, 2018 -- Boston College Law School's 2018 Commencement ceremony, held in Conte Forum. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham (  Photographs by Caitlin Cunningham

Addressing the Boston College Law School Class of 2018, Debra Wong Yang ’85, a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and the former US Attorney for the Central District of California, urged the graduates to “keep an open mind.”

“What you are getting today, when they hand you that diploma, is a passport,” Yang said. “A passport to a new stage, a new career, new job opportunities, new ways to look at the world, and an opening of a door to a multitude of opportunities. You may find the joy in representing those who don’t have the same access to justice as others do. You may find joy in fighting to uphold and reinforce the civil rights for some. You may find passion in establishing laws in areas yet undefined—with respect to cyber laws, the internet, rules governing the ever-emerging tech world. You will find ways to make a change, real change in small and large ways.”

Yang referenced a former BC Law graduate who investigated and tried the first crimes against genocide case in Rwanda under the UN Convention, and who later became the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues. “He probably never imagined that role when he was working as a DA in Los Angeles in the gang division,” she said. One thing these kinds of experiences have in common, she said, is that that rely on a rule of law. “Seeing as I have many places where the rule of law is severely impaired highlights how important it is for our country, and why we should uphold those rules. But we also have much to do here, because this is a living, breathing rule. It lives because of professionals like you, who have dedicated and will take an oath to uphold the rule of law, assure and support how that rule is enforced.”

Yang ended with some advice she said she commonly gives those who seek her guidance: “Be in control of your own destiny. Give thought to what you are doing. Put yourself in a position where meaningful or interesting opportunities present themselves, so you can jump at them. In this way, you can always enrich your lives.”

In his address, Dean Vincent Rougeau spoke of a time fifty years ago, when a period of relative prosperity had been fragmented by a growing sense of discord as the Vietnam War threatened to tear the country apart. “After fifty years, we tend to be struck by how things have and have not changed,” he said. “As we reflect on what has not changed, we might ask ourselves—are we better as a community, as a democracy, for those things that have endured? Do they hold us back, or do they elevate us and serve the common good?”

The expansion of opportunity for all Americans has been one of the great achievements of the last fifty years, Dean Rougeau said. “Yet, given some recent events, one might be forgiven for thinking that those achievements are seriously threatened. We are seeing the fabric of our national unity tested once again by gun violence, racism, nativism, drug addiction, and deep political cynicism. But as members of the legal profession, we cannot be complacent, nor should we lose hope. As Robert F. Kennedy said, “Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”

Dean Rougeau concluded by encouraging the graduates to reflect on where the nation has been, where it is now, and what it can become. “Remember the centrality of equal justice for all to the security and endurance of our democracy, and never fail to recognize both the power and the responsibility you wield as Boston College lawyers.”

Today’s commencement speaker, who was profiled in the Summer 2016 issue of BC Law Magazine, is Chair of Dunn & Crutcher’s Crisis Management Practice Group, former Chair of the White Collar Defense and Investigations Practice Group, and former Chair of the Information Technology and Data Privacy Practice Group. She is also a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.

Yang was appointed US Attorney in May 2002 by President George W. Bush, becoming the first Asian-American woman to serve in that capacity. Prior to becoming US Attorney, she was a California state judge. She was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1997, serving for a time as a Supervising Judge, and became a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court bench in 2000. She was an Assistant US Attorney for seven years prior to her judicial career, a role in which she prosecuted violent crimes, white-collar crimes, arson, and computer crimes at the trial and appellate levels. She has served on the Ninth Circuit Jury Reform Committee.

Yang has a strong background in addressing and resolving problems across the white-collar litigation spectrum, including through corporate and individual representations, internal investigations, crisis management, and compliance. The Los Angeles Business Journal named her as one of the Top 500 most influential people in Los Angeles (2016). In 2015, she was recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of the 27 “stellar attorneys” on the Most Influential Lawyers: White Collar and Cyber Crime list. In 2017, the Journal also named her to its list of Most Influential Women Lawyers in Los Angeles, featuring 50 of the most accomplished female attorneys working in the region, and in 2018, they named her among its Most Influential Minority Lawyers in Los Angeles. LawDragon 2016 named her as one of the Top 500 lawyers in the United States.

Yang has long represented companies, boards, and audit and other board committees in internal investigations, compliance-related issues, and criminal investigations regarding the FCPA, health care laws, financial controls, trade secrets, and cyber/data intrusions, among multiple other areas. She serves as Special Counsel to a corporate compliance committee. She has managed cases in the crisis arena relating to corporate governance, entertainment, gaming, recalled products, health care, and insurance. She was twice appointed as a corporate compliance monitor on health care matters, once by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and once by the New York State Supreme Court at the request of the New York Attorney General’s Office. She authored the article “FCPA Program Continues to Focus on Individuals” along with Michael Wong in The Daily Journal, April 2016.

Yang launched Gibson Dunn’s Information Technology and Data Privacy Practice Group, which focuses on a field in which she has maintained particular interest and proficiency since prosecuting one of the first computer hacking cases as a young Assistant US Attorney. Yang was selected to serve on President George W. Bush’s Corporate Fraud Task Force and to chair the Attorney General’s Advisory Committees on Intellectual Property and Civil Rights. She was appointed by the Attorney General to sit on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and on the Intellectual Property Task Force. Among the numerous articles Yang has written on the topic is “Countering the Cyber-Crime Threat,” co-written with Brian M. Hoffstadt and published in the Spring 2006 edition of American Criminal Law Review.

Yang has been an adjunct professor at the USC School of Law and has instructed at the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and at California’s Judicial College. She is a former president and board member of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles. She is on the Executive Committee of the prestigious Committee of 100.

In 2012, the Anti-Defamation League presented Yang with its Deborah Award, which honors “extraordinary women of achievement.” The award was given in recognition for her “professional and philanthropic dedication to the Los Angeles community.” In 2010, she was named by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Federalist Society as Lawyer of the Year. She previously served as a founding member and officer of many Asian-American bar organizations in Chicago and Los Angeles. Yang was recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the Top 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America in 2008. She has been recognized as a champion of civil rights by both the Los Angeles City Council in 2002 and the Inglewood Superior Court. The Asian Pacific Bar Association selected her as the 2002 recipient of its Public Service Award, and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association named her the 2003 recipient of the Trailblazers Award. In 2004, she was appointed to the President’s Council for Pitzer College of the Claremont Colleges and was given the inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award.

Two hundred and twenty-six JD graduates received degrees at the Law School’s 85th Commencement exercises, including one December 2017 graduate. Twelve LLM students also received degrees. More information on the Boston College Law School Commencement is available at the school’s website,