Commencement Ceremonies Celebrate Classes of 2020 and 2021

By Ben Meyers
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Commencement 2020 and 2021

May 21 was a unique day for Albany Law School. For the first time in recent history, two different classes were honored with Commencement ceremonies on the same day at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The Class of 2021 was recognized in the morning and the Class of 2020 – which had its ceremony delayed nearly exactly one year by the COVID-19 pandemic – was saluted in the afternoon.

Attendance was limited due to pandemic precautions but a limited number of family members were able to attend.

View full video and photos for both ceremonies

Speaking to the graduates of the Class of 2021 in the morning, keynote speaker Robert Capers ’96 said, “Each and every one of you are special, not just because of the usual reasons – you’re special because you’ve faced a real uncertainty head-on and emerged victoriously from what will surely be one of the most challenging experiences of your professional lives.”

“There is, quite literally, no challenge that you can’t overcome because you overcame this,” Capers said. “Each and every one of you, you are all victorious.”

Capers is currently the Chief United States Probation Officer for the Eastern District of New York and an Albany Law School Trustee.

“There is no doubt we were changed, and that we experienced losses. But I saw a greater sense of community, love, and support than I have ever seen at this School. You adapted, you created, and you grew closer even while you were physically apart. I watched as you found creative new ways to connect and bond. I marveled at how you reached out to one another to give comfort and care. I was astonished at how resilient you were through every new challenge that you faced.,” President and Dean Alicia Ouellette told the Class of 2021, “I can’t help but believe that you have been uniquely tempered by your experiences and that your class—the class of 2021—is more prepared than any class has ever been to take on the world that awaits you, to be of service to your clients and society, to effect justice, and to put your Albany Law education to work making this world a better place..”

In total, 180 Class of 2021 graduates received J.D. (163), LL.M. (10), and M.S.L.S. (17) degrees.

Addressing the graduates of the Class of 2020 in the afternoon, keynote speaker James J. Sandman said, “Surveys consistently show that 91% of law school graduates cannot remember who spoke at their commencement two years later. And of the 9% who can remember who the speaker was, only 6% can remember anything the speaker said. Actually, I just made those numbers up. I have no illusion that you will ever remember me.  But I do hope that you might remember my message. I can state it in four words: Good people finish first.”

“My hope for you is that, some years from now, you might remember that at your Albany Law School commencement, some guy whose name you’ve long since forgotten told you that good people finish first – and that you’ll be able to say, ‘and he was right,’” he said.

Sandman, the outgoing president of the Legal Services Corporation, was also honored with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Albany Law. Since 2016, he has served as a trustee of Albany Law School in honor of his father, Edgar Sandman '46.

“You had worked so hard to earn the right to walk across this stage and be recognized for your achievements and to share that special moment with your classmates, family and friends.  And you lost that, along with so much else,” Ouellette said to the class of 2020. “But we promised that when the time was right we would have a commencement for you and here we are!  It’s a year later than it should have been, but I’m so happy to be able to finally share this moment with you.  And this moment celebrates all that you did and achieved as an Albany Law student.”

In total, 162 Class of 2020 graduates were recognized, including J.D. (142), LL.M. (12), and M.S.L.S. (8) degrees.

Other highlights of the ceremonies included:

  • In a slight break from tradition to accommodate for pandemic protocols, the 2020 faculty awards were not presented at the ceremony this year. However, Professor Christine Sgarlata Chung received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship; Associate Dean Antony Haynes received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Service; Professor James Redwood received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching last August.
  • The 2021 faculty awards were also not presented live, but Professor Michael Hutter received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship; Professor Mary Lynch received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Service; Distinguished Professor Patricia Reyhan received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in a virtual ceremony on May 20.
  • Three faculty members presented doctoral hoods to graduates over the ceremonies: Associate Professor Edward W. De Barbieri, Associate Dean Antony Haynes, and Assistant Professor Ava Ayers.
  • Alizabeth Volkman, President of the Class of 2021, presented the Friend of the Class Award to Assistant Professor of Law Louis Jim.
  • Kieran Murphy, President of the Class of 2020, presented the Friend of the Class Award to Distinguished Professor of Law Patricia Reyhan.

Per tradition, the two presidents of the National Alumni Association (NAA) personally welcomed the newest members of the Albany Law School NAA.

"Your futures, as government and business leaders, influential attorneys, community leaders, good neighbors and friends, will enhance all of us. While you are out in the world, be great stewards and ambassadors for our school. Stay connected," said current NAA President the Hon. Peter G. Crummey ’81 to the Class of 2021. "Your resiliency to finish what you started in such an environment makes you well suited to meet the highs and lows of life to come."

“Your class, above all others, was given a journey to Commencement that was like no other,” said past NAA president Lisa Ogden ’03 to the class of 2020. She was acting president when the class would have graduated last year. “Your relationship with Albany Law grows even stronger after today.  Just remember that as a professional, nothing is more important than your reputation.  The law school’s strength and reputation is not based solely on academic statistics but also the accomplishments of our alumni, a long list which I am sure you will add to in the years to come.”