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Lara Montecalvo ’00 Addresses Grads

At Commencement 2024, the First Circuit judge offered lessons from her life and career.


At Boston College Law School’s 2024 Commencement Ceremony, Lara E. Montecalvo ’00, a former public defender now serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, gave the graduates some advice she has learned over the course of her career: learn from their mistakes; remember there is always a human-element to lawyering; and collaboration is essential. 

“Even once you are well into years or decades of practice, there will still be lessons to be learned, and it will be important for you to know that and acknowledge those lessons when they present themselves,” she said. “And I think if you do this, you will set yourself on the path to having a confident answer to that question you are asking today: Have I learned to be a good lawyer?”

Montecalvo also stressed the importance of the right narrative and in humanizing their clients. “Remember the importance of your client’s name and story. And the words you chose to use to convey those two things can make or break your case… For those of you who will go on to be public defenders, prosecutors, or legal aid lawyers, that will be easy to see in your daily work. But there are real people involved in every business merger, bankruptcy, contract dispute, and patent challenge as well. As a lawyer and an advocate, your job will be to tell their stories three-dimensionally.”

Collaboration is also essential to all good lawyering, she said. “I am a better judge because I have the benefit of working closely with two other judges on every appeals panel when coming to a decision in a case. In fact, every case gets not just the contributions of three judges, but the research and work of at least three law clerks, who are usually recent law school grads. All of these unique perspectives come together to create an excellent written decision.”

Montecalvo left them with a final thought: if an interesting opportunity comes up in their careers, don’t be afraid to take more risks. “What’s the worst they can say? The worst they can say is “No.” So, just go for it.”

After receiving her JD magna cum laude from BC Law, Montecalvo began her career as a trial attorney in the Tax Division of the Department of Justice. She joined the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office four years later as a trial attorney, eventually working her way to Assistant Public Defender and Chief of the Appellate Division before reaching the top job. She was nominated by President Biden to the First Circuit, and confirmed by the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2022. She has been lauded for her pursuit of equal justice for all, for representing clients who could not afford an attorney, and for her effort to reduce the incarceration of women.

In her address, BC Law Dean Odette Lienau spoke of the rule of law under threat. “It is not something we can take for granted,” she said. “And the concept can be made empty – or even used for ill in the world – without lawyers – good lawyers – to define and shape this concept through their work.”

BC Law’s mission of lawyers for the greater good is essential today more than ever, she said. “And I hope that all of you are forming your own definition – of what that means for you. Whether you are going into Big Law, a nonprofit, business, government service, a clerkship. Or – maybe – all of the above – over the course of a career. And – certainly – as a citizen of your communities and of the world.”

Three hundred and thirty-eight J.D. graduates received degrees at the Law School’s 91st Commencement exercises. Twelve LL.M. students also received degrees. At the ceremony, Anna Hunt 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 Regine Cooper, which recognizes a student who exemplifies the intellectual, spiritual, and moral qualities of St. Thomas More; The Susan Grant Desmarais Award to Ayesha Ahsan, which recognizes a student for public service achievement and leadership; and The Philip Joseph Privitera ‘95 Commencement Award to Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes, 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 23, included:

The Dean’s Awards for Diversity – Jasmin Lee and Berlindyne Elie

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

The Sheila McGovern Awards – Julianna Marandola and George Ward

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

The Law School Awards for Clinical Excellence – Teodoro Upton and Erica Taft

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

The Lewis S. Gurwitz Award – Noreen Anderson

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 – Jordan McGuffee

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

The Richard S. Sullivan Awards – Tracy Werick and Joseph Black

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 – Disability Law Students Association

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

The Aviam Soifer Award – J Swanger

Honors a student for public service achievement and leadership.

The LLM Leadership Award – Ana Maria Rojas Gutierrez

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 – Anna Hunt and Joseph Donoso

Recognizes students who have done outstanding editorial work on publications.

The Dean Dennis A. Dooley Award – Jayne Morris

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

The William J. O’Keefe Award – Edwin Ward

Honors a student for outstanding contribution to the law school.  

The John D. O’Reilly, Jr. Award – Isabella Miller

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

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 28th 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.

Dean Odette Lineau addresses graduates and their families.
Judge Lara Montecalvo, keynote speaker.
Graduates cross the stage as their name is read and get a photo with the dean.
Law Student Association president Regine Cooper.