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Commencement 2023

There Is Hope

Leading journalist Judy Woodruff urged graduates to use the law to bridge divides and protect democracy.

Commencement speaker Judy Woodruff shared wisdom from her 50 years in broadcasting.  Photograph by Caitlin Cunningham

Addressing the Boston College Law School Class of 2023, legendary broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff urged the graduates to help move the country “in the direction of the welcoming, open, and humane place we all want it to be.”

Woodruff drew from her more than 50 years of experience covering American politics at the highest levels of journalism to offer her unique perspective on the problems the country is facing. “Too many Americans, including children, still lack access to good healthcare, to adequate housing, even a healthy diet, and—something you know well—fair treatment in our judicial system,” she said. “And for the first time in modern memory, we face serious threats to our democracy from within our own borders. Legitimate results of a presidential election were called a fraud, and challenged: not just in courtrooms across the land, but by a group of Americans wielding batons and flagpoles, beating up security guards and police officers, ransacking the US Capitol building and threatening to kill members of Congress and the Vice President of the United States…There can be legitimate debates in this country over the role of government, over issues like immigration, abortion, and healthcare.  But there should be no debate over the integrity of our election process, the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, or a violent mob assault on the citadel of our democracy in an attempt to overturn the will of the American people.”

Woodruff said that in her decades of covering political disagreements between parties, she had never seen them so divided and held such a “dark” view of the opposite side of the aisle. She referenced a Pew Research Center study that reported “Republicans today are far more likely to view Democrats as—not just wrong on the issues—but dishonest and immoral. And a similar change in Democrats’ views of Republicans.”

Still, she said, there is hope. Woodruff referenced the phone calls she had shared with three distinguished graduates in the class of 2023, Talia Weseley, Javon Davis, and Jamie Ehrlich, who all referenced the warm community and support of incredible faculty mentors. “What is clear is that you’ve each benefited from an extraordinary caring faculty, setting an example for you in your own careers,” she said. “With this great BC education, you will all be able to succeed in the work you choose, but if you remember to lend a hand to those behind you on that ladder, you will also be successful in the way that truly counts.”

Woodruff ended by urging the graduates to do their part to move the country in a more welcoming and inclusive direction “for all Americans, those here now, and those who will become citizens…The country that’s known for its striving to be better, with a goal of fairness and opportunity for all. We aren’t there yet. Far from it. But now, more than ever, we are reminded of those goals. And we need each of you to play your part in getting us there.”

Woodruff, who recently stepped down as Anchor and Managing Editor of PBS NewsHour after eleven years at the helm, continues to serve as Senior Correspondent for the program. Her next major project, “America at a Crossroads,” will find her traveling the country to better understand the current political divide. 

Woodruff first rose to national prominence as a White House Correspondent for NBC News, and eventually became Chief White House Correspondent for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. After a decade with PBS, Woodruff moved to CNN, where she served as an anchor and senior correspondent for over twelve years. For her work, Woodruff has earned a Peabody Journalistic Integrity Award, the Poynter Medal, an Emmy for Lifetime Achievement, the Radcliffe Medal, and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. 

A giant of public broadcasting, Woodruff has interviewed heads-of-state and moderated numerous presidential debates with her steady, even-tempered delivery. Most recently, she sat down with President Joe Biden for an exclusive interview after February’s State of the Union address.

In her address, BC Law Dean Odette Lienau spoke of the rule of law under threat, and referenced the war in Ukraine and Ukrainian Ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, who received an honorary doctorate of law from Boston College at the University ceremony earlier in the week. “One ongoingand blatantexample of the perversionof legal languagecan be found in Vladimir Putin’s invasion,” Lienau said. “He has called this a ‘special military operation’ to protect people from ‘abuse’ and ‘genocide’ that he claimed had been propagated by the Ukrainian government. He also framed the invasion as in line with ‘norms of international law’…We understand all too well how disinformation can be weaponized. The language of law—itself—can be weaponized too.”

She urged the graduates to fight back against threats, both foreign and domestic. “Whereveryour career takes you, please rememberthat this large concept—the rule of law—takes lifeand becomes meaningfulthrough your workand your actions. And—through you—it becomes visibleto countless individuals, families, businesses, and communities. Law’s integritydepends, most importantly, on those who useit, those who know it. Those who are willingto call outits perversionsand its abuses from a place of expertise, and with a commitment to human rightsand equal justice.”

Two hundred and fifty-four JD graduates received degrees at the Law School’s 90th Commencement exercises. Thirteen LLM students also received degrees. At the ceremony, Heather Odell received The Attorney Michael A. Flanagan Award, which honors a student for ranking highest in the graduating class. Three other awards were given out, including The St. Thomas More Award to Elizabeth Foley, which recognizes a student who exemplifies the intellectual, spiritual, and moral qualities of St. Thomas More; The Susan Grant Desmarais Award to Sarah Ursini, which recognizes a student for public service achievement and leadership; and The Philip Joseph Privitera ’95 Commencement Award to Michael Alario, which honors a student for exceptional contributions through outstanding scholarship and commitment to service as well as to the work of the law.

Other awards, given at the Law School’s Commencement Eve Celebration on May 25, included:

The Dean’s Award for Diversity – Hyonwoo Elena Kang

Recognizes a student who has made outstanding contributions to diversity in the life of the law school community.

The Sheila McGovern Award – Leah Paxton

Recognizes a student for achievement of personal goals under extraordinary circumstances.

The Law School Award for Clinical Excellence – Jessica Bielonko & Gabriella Zoia

Recognizes two students who have done outstanding work in our clinical programs.

The Lewis S. Gurwitz Award – Louise Lyall

Honors a law student who has shown selfless commitment to the defense of those without the resources to defend themselves.

The Richard G. Huber Award – Chukwuemeka Kennedy Ukelegharanya

Honors a student for scholarship and leadership in extra- and co-curricular activities.

The Richard S. Sullivan Award – Mariatu Saptieu Iyatunde Adukeyigi Okonofua

Honors a student for overall contribution to the Law School community, service to the community, and outstanding school spirit.

The Law School Award for Service and Leadership by a Group – The Environmental Law Society

Honors one student organization each year for outstanding service and leadership in our law school community.

The Aviam Soifer Award – Dhairya Bhatia

Honors a student for public service achievement and leadership.

The LLM Leadership Award – Alex Bado

Honors an LLM student who serves as an ambassador of the LLM Program with our faculty, staff, visiting scholars, JD/LLM, and exchange students.

The Cornelius J. Moynihan Awards – Andrew Loucks and Emily O’Hara

Recognizes students who have done outstanding editorial work on publications.

The Dean Dennis A. Dooley Award – Eric Solomine

Honors a student for outstanding scholarship average, for ranking second highest in the graduating class, our salutatorian.

The William J. O’Keefe Award – Isabella Forcino

Honors a student for outstanding contribution to the law school. 

The John D. O’Reilly, Jr. Awards – Julia Palmerino & Talia Weseley

Honors a student’s outstanding contribution to the law school community through service to its students.

More information on the Boston College Law School Commencement is available at the school’s website,

Boston College Law School opened in 1929 in a small downtown Boston office building with 54 students and two full-time faculty members.  Currently ranked 29th in the country by the annual US News & World Report survey, the law school’s highly qualified students are drawn from more than 200 colleges and universities across the United States, as well as in other countries. The law school’s 14,000 alumni practice in 50 states and many foreign countries, holding positions in major law firms, corporate in-house legal departments, the judiciary, government agencies, private industry, academic and public interest organizations, and serving as elected state legislators and members of the U.S. Congress.