172nd Commencement Celebrates the Class of 2023
The graduates of Class of 2023 began law school at a time of tremendous uncertainty. Many chose Albany Law School sight unseen and endured constant change.
They took some of the final steps of their Albany Law journeys on May 19, 2023 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the school’s 172nd Commencement.
Overall, 202 graduates—172 J.D., 17 M.S., and 13 LL.M—crossed the stage with some traveling from Oregon, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Switzerland.
In her final Commencement speech, President and Dean Alicia Ouellette ‘94 shared wisdom from her tenure as Albany Law’s leader and as a law student just like the hundreds in front of her.
I started with ‘No, because,’” Ouellette remembered about her time trying to get through law school while starting her family. She had two children while attending classes. “My mentor challenged me to change my frame, to start from ‘Yes, if’ instead.”
“You, the Class of 2023 are the ‘yes if’ class. Facing extraordinary challenges, you could have given the no because, and stopped. You had every reason to put off law school; but you made it work. You had every reason to compromise, but you refused. Finding a way to get to yes, and launch your professional career,” she said. “This perseverance, this willingness to consider possibilities will serve you well in your careers. When presented with an opportunity to grow as a professional, I hope you’ll start with yes if, making room for the possibility that you can grow and achieve, just as you have done during your time as an Albany Law student.”
Ouellette will step down from her position as President and Dean in July.
“It is a real pleasure to be with you all to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduating class of 2023 and to share the success with the family and friends who have encouraged and supported you along the way. It’s taken years of hard work for you to get to this moment, and the equivalent of years of resilience, perseverance and adaptability to navigate through the unprecedented challenges of the past three years,” said Debra Treyz ’77, Chair of the Albany Law School Board of Trustees. “You’ve mastered more than law school – you’ve developed skills and character that will serve you for a lifetime.”
The Commencement keynote speaker, Roberta ‘Robbie” Kaplan, offered further guidance to the graduating class.
"When you wake up tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that, persist as members of the profession, you will be entrusted with the responsibility to protect the constitution of this great state of New York and the Constitution of the United States of America. The people who stand the most to lose from the battles raging us today do not have the privilege of being here in this ceremony today. They need your help now, more than ever," she said.
The words were not just inspirational, but backed with years of high-profile experience. Kaplan successfully argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of LGBTQ rights activist Edith Windsor, in United States v. Windsor, a landmark decision that invalidated a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) requiring the federal government to recognize marriages of same-sex couples in 2013.
Earlier this year, Kaplan represented E. Jean Carroll in her sexual abuse and defamation case against former President Donald Trump. Carroll was awarded an unprecedented $5 million from the jury in the case.
Kaplan was presented with an honorary degree from Albany Law School.
"So, like Edith Windsor or E. Jean Carrol, be brave, be yourself. Be true to yourself. Even if you lose a case or two or three along the way, like I did, keep on walking across that narrow bridge with as little fear as possible. You are about to enter one of the nobelist professions...We are all counting on you to do so," she said.
Beyond the diplomas, Professor Ava Ayers received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship; Professor Patricia Reyhan received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Service; and Professor Alex Seita received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.
After the graduates walked across the stage, they were officially welcomed to the Albany Law School alumni community by National Alumni Association President Mark Chieco ’02.
“I encourage you to stay engaged with the law school, stay connected—share your news with Albany Law School —come back to campus often, and help to provide for future students through mentorships and job opportunities. All of which I know you will do,” he said. “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 are 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.”
Chieco also posthumously welcomed Joseph Gentile to the National Alumni Association. Gentile, a U.S. Army veteran, died during his 1L year in 2020. The Veteran’s Pro Bono Project now bears his name. Next year, his wife, Jillian, will graduate from Albany Law School.
Also, among the celebration, Legal Assistant Sherri Meyer was named Friend of the Class by Class President Michelle McCabe ’23. McCabe also presented the Class of 2023 Gift, Adirondack chairs for the law school courtyard.