Graduation 2024: Exuberance and Emotion as Students Embrace the Future

Columbia Law School’s Class of 2024—including J.D., LL.M., E.LL.M., and J.S.D. students—celebrate their achievements at a Class Day ceremony featuring remarks from U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke ’00. 

Woman in academic regalia crosses stage before large audience under enormous tent

Ushered in by the ringing of a ceremonial bell and greeted by whooping, photo-snapping family and friends, the Columbia Law School Class of 2024 marked the completion of law degrees at an afternoon ceremony held at Columbia’s Baker Athletics Complex on May 13. The Class Day event honored more than 800 candidates for J.D., LL.M., E.LL.M., and J.S.D. degrees.  

In accordance with longstanding tradition, members of this year’s 50th Reunion Class led the procession of faculty, administrative leaders, and students into the Law School ceremony. Family and friends lined up along the procession route to cheer for the graduates. 

Four people in academic regalia carrying "50th Reunion" banner
Alumni from the Class of 1974 led the procession.
Crowd of people with cameras lined up behind rope
Family and friends cheered the graduates.
Dean Lester: “The Will to Repair”

Graduation Committee co-Chair Tess J. Kim ’24 welcomed everyone to the ceremony. “We’ve supported one another through challenging times, and the friendships we’ve formed have made this journey unforgettable,” she said. “Today, we celebrate our unwavering spirit and the power of our education to drive positive change. … Congratulations, Class of 2024. We’ve earned this moment. Let’s stand proud and embrace the future that awaits us.” 

Dark haired woman in tam and robe at podium
Graduation Committee co-Chair Tess J. Kim ’24

Fellow Graduation Committee co-Chair Mubashshir Sarshar ’24 LL.M. then introduced Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, whom he called “a true giant of legal academia.” Lester, who will return to teaching following her tenure as the 15th dean of the Law School, “has led Columbia Law School to unprecedented heights,” Sarshar said. “Let us take a moment to celebrate her remarkable legacy and express our deepest gratitude for her outstanding contributions.” 

Woman in academic regalia speaks at podium
Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law

In her final graduation address as leader of the Law School, Dean Lester described learning about kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken objects, often pottery, which reflects “a broader philosophy of accepting human imperfection and embracing the beauty borne of the processes of breaking and repair,” she said. 

In an academic year marked by the “bitter reverberations of war,” she urged students not to lose faith in their abilities and their sustaining relationships with friends and family. 

“You have all been affected in different ways, making the solidity of common ground among you less certain,” she said. “And yet, here we gather as you prepare to cross the stage—you, standing firm, resilient, and ready to enter a proud profession in which you will shape and lead the future.

“Graduates, have no doubt: You will have many, many successes, joys, and triumphs ahead,” Dean Lester said. “You are brilliant, you are prepared, you are wise, you are compassionate. You have made friends who will always stand by you. You are principled and purposeful. These qualities will carry you through your lifetimes and see you thrive as proud leaders in our profession. And when you face hard times—and you know you will—remember to reach for the values that brought you here and that hold our society together.

“Keep that faith when something you cherish comes under strain—or even when it breaks,” she said. “May you find courage in the will to repair. May you find beauty in imperfection. And may you find wisdom and strength in the whole, our beloved community of Columbia Law.”

Students in academic regalia seated under enormous tent
The Class of 2024 seated under the Class Day tent.
Student Speakers: “The Celebration Belongs to Us All” 

Student Senate President Justin Onwenu ’24 introduced J.D. Class Speaker Jonathan Elliot Gliboff ’24 and LL.M. Class Speaker Sharon Matongo ’24 LL.M., who were elected by a popular vote of their respective classes. “As we graduate, I hope that we will remember how important it is to treat each other with the same sense of care,” Onwenu said. “We will have the tools to change the world, to make it more just, more kind, more respectful, more fair, and I can’t wait to see what each and every one of us do to advance this duty.” 

Man in robe and tam at podium
Student Senate President Justin Onwenu ’24

Gliboff was among several speakers who joked about the rarity of law students finding themselves at Columbia’s sports complex, the location of this year’s Class Day ceremony. He spoke of struggling to balance the successes and losses he experienced as a law student, including making Columbia Law Review, coaching a successful moot court team, and winning a writing prize—but in the span of 2L year, also losing his father, grandfather, and an uncle. 

“I was thriving, but I was grieving,” he said. “With each win, I kept asking myself, ‘How can I even celebrate when there was so much pain?’... And as we sit here in an alternative location for our graduation, more aware than ever that things in the world are amiss … I began to understand that it was the unsettling juxtaposition of the two memories that made it profound. … It’s the loss that reminds us how much love there is in community. And when I think of those moments, yes, there is pain, but there is also so much gratitude. And in that gratitude, there is oh so much to celebrate.

Bearded man in tam and robe at podium
J.D. Class Speaker Jonathan Elliot Gliboff ’24

“Over the last three years, each of us has played an essential role in painting a picture. That picture is one of stress and achievement. It’s one of obstacles, and perseverance. It is a picture of growth and commitment. From where I am standing today, I see it as a picture that is beautiful. And I will forever be grateful that I have had the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Matongo, the LL.M. speaker, described the African philosophy of ubuntu, “a principle of communitarianism which means ‘I am because we are.’” 

Woman in tam with tassel and academic robe with sash at podium
LL.M. Class Speaker Sharon Matongo ’24 LL.M.

“A person is a person among and only because of other people,” Matongo said, recounting how she had been helped by others during a moment of profound crisis during her year at Columbia Law. In Zimbabwe, Matongo’s home, the practice of ubuntu means “I am only well if you are well. I celebrate when you celebrate,” she said. “And if suffering visits your home, it has come to mine, too.” 

Turning her remarks to her classmates and the historic moment during which they graduate, Matongo said: “The world demands from us a praxis of radical compassion. Ours is a time when we must wield the power, prestige, and privilege that we have as graduates of this institution. So my question to you is: Whose suffering are you seizing? Whose hand are you holding? And whose burdens are you bearing? For now, we celebrate together. Congratulations, makorokoto, God bless you.”

Willis L.M. Reese Prize Recipient: "You Are Formidable"

The annual Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded by the Class of 2024 to Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Betts Professor of Law. In his introduction of Bulman-Pozen, Graduation Committee co-Chair Jermel M. McClure Jr. ’24 described “a learned, passionate, and generous professor … who is genuinely invested in student success.” He praised Bulman-Pozen for leavening lectures with wit and humor, saying she “goes the extra mile” to mentor students and help them network. 

Smilling bearded man in tam and academic robe at podium
Graduation Committee co-Chair Jermel M. McClure Jr. ’24

While preparing her remarks, Bulman-Pozen told students, she challenged herself to answer the question of how to “celebrate your tremendous accomplishments, the brilliant and beautiful and brave things you have done at Columbia, while also acknowledging the horrible challenges of the world and their refractions on our campus?”

Woman with long dark hair in academic robe and tam speaks at podium
Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Betts Professor of Law 

The answer, she said, was to recognize and appreciate how students achieved the former in the face of the latter. “Doing brilliant and beautiful and brave things doesn’t matter so much when it’s easy. It matters when it’s hard. Recent months at Columbia have been hard. And you have showed us in these months how exceptional you are.” She praised students for their work on behalf of others in the Law School’s clinics and externships, and also on campus. “Class of 2024,” she said, “you are formidable.”

She urged the students to remain engaged and empathetic, with an eye toward the future. “No matter how certain you are of your position, continue to listen, continue to talk with those who disagree. Keep working across difference. In the law, we have opponents, not enemies,” she said. “Never cease to imagine new legal horizons even as you tend to the needs of the present. To make lasting change, we must always play the long game. We must not only engage with our opponents but also work to make them our allies.”


Kathryn Judge, Harvey J. Goldschmid Professor of Law and vice dean for intellectual life, announced some of the Law School’s most prestigious academic prizes. Margaret Hassel ’24 and Jermel M. McClure Jr. ’24 received the Samuel I. Rosenman Prize; Kate Rosenstengel ’24 was awarded the Pauline Berman Heller Prize; the E.B. Convers Prize was won by Jackson Springer ’24; and Luke Cronin ’24 won the university’s Campbell Prize.

Woman with long hair and tam speaks at podium
Kathryn Judge, Harvey J. Goldschmid Professor of Law and vice dean for intellectual life

Judge also announced that two members of the Law School faculty received commencement awards from Columbia University. Professor of Law Henry Paul Monaghan received the Faculty Mentoring Award for his work with tenure-track and mid-career faculty, and Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law, received the Faculty Service Award for contributions to the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Goateed man in academic regalia raises hand to acknowledge crowd
Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law 
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke ’00: “Steer the Consciousness of Humanity Toward Justice”

“CLS has provided me a framework for thinking about what justice means,” keynote speaker Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke ’00, head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, told the Class of 2024. Returning to Columbia Law to witness the class graduation “is an immense source of renewal and inspiration,” she said.

Woman in tam and academic regalia speaks at podium
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke ’00

As the first woman and first Black woman to lead the Civil Rights Division, “I have had the immense privilege of waking up every day to a job that I love: using our federal civil rights laws to promote justice in every corner of our country,” Clarke said. That means “working tirelessly to prosecute hate crimes. White supremacy, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia: Hate-fueled violence has no place in our country. Period.” 

She recalled the disappointment of losing one of her first cases, a hate-crime trial in Kentucky. Remember, she told the class, “that the right outcome in a case may not come easily. That it’s nonetheless important to stand up for those who are victims. That we should never be presumptuous as lawyers. That we have a duty to zealously represent our clients and a duty to passionately push for the rule of law—clear-eyed and focused and undeterred. … It is the lawyers’ responsibility to be at the forefront of these efforts. It is our duty to steer the consciousness of humanity toward justice.”

Man with glasses in tam and academic robe speaks at podium
Graduation Committee co-Chair Mubashshir Sarshar ’24 LL.M.

Sarshar, the LL.M. graduation committee co-chair, announced that Columbia Law School alumnus Matthew R. Kipp ’89 and his wife, Susan, had made a gift to Columbia Law School in honor of every member of the Class of 2024. “This gift will help alleviate the unanticipated financial needs of the current and future Columbia Law students,” Sarshar said. “Their gift is a reminder to us all of our potential to ‘give back’ to the students who come after us.”

Across the Stage and on to the Celebration

To cheers from the audience, degree candidates crossed the ceremonial stage to shake hands with Dean Lester. After all the graduates were presented, Kim, a J.D. graduation committee co-chair, closed the ceremony with thanks to family, friends, professors, and mentors. “We couldn’t have done this without you all cheering us on every step of the way,” she said. “As we leave, let’s carry forward the lessons we’ve learned, embracing the opportunities ahead with courage and conviction. … Congratulations, Class of 2024! The world awaits you.”

Man in academic regalia, holding baby in lion costume, shakes hands with dean
Prospective member, Class of 2050