World Court judge headlines Law School Commencement

More than 600 new lawyers were set loose on the world a few weeks ago as GW’s Law School Commencement ceremony took place in a packed Smith Center.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg kicked off the May 23 ceremony, which featured remarks from World Court Justice Thomas Buergenthal, with a charge to graduates to never stop learning.

“You can put aside blue books … but strive to always learn about the world around you,” Trachtenberg said.

In his introduction, Trachtenberg also congratulated outgoing Law School Dean Michael Young on his decision to become the president of the University of Utah. Law professors will convene a committee to interview replacements for Young, who assumes his new position this summer.

“It’s not surprising that our colleagues in Utah, that when they sought a president, they came after Dean Young,” Trachtenberg said.

Following the announcement of faculty and student awards, Trachtenberg introduced Buergenthal, a U.S. judge on the International Court of Justice, or World Court, which meets in The Hague, Netherlands. GW bestowed an honorary doctor of laws degree on Burgenthal.

The World Court is the principal judicial component of the United Nations. Buergenthal was elected to the court by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. Buergenthal, a survivor of the Holocaust, is considered one of the world’s foremost human rights experts.

“Your jurisdiction is as wide as the planet,” Trachtenberg said of Buergenthal.

During his speech, Buergenthal encouraged graduates to work for reasons other than monetary gain.

“Choose a career that contributes to a cause close to your heart,” Buergenthal said. “And, for heaven’s sake, don’t let the career goals of others or what others think drive you into jobs you know or sense you will not like.”

Buegenthal then addressed globalization and the war in Iraq.

“Given the times we live in, we lawyers … need to recognize the world is not just a marketing opportunity,” Buergenthal said. “Benefit spiritually by making an effort to understand this world.”

He also touched on the recent human rights abuses committed by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

“The point is that the United States has lost the moral high ground – I hope only for the time being,” he said. “By losing it, it has deprived many current and future victims of human rights violations of their most effective advocate and protector.”

Eveylon Westerbrook, president of GW’s Student Bar Association, delivered the distinguished faculty and staff awards during the ceremony.

“We are about to embark on some of the most … exciting times of our lives,” Westerbrook said in a southern twang.

Before doling out the awards, Westerbrook reminisced about her time at school, citing the September 11 attacks as the most significant experience for most graduates.

The distinguished faculty award was given to Professor Gregory E. Maggs, who Westerbrook jokingly announced as Gregory “Let’s-Get-Started-Now.”

Maggs urges graduates to forever apply the knowledge they obtained while in law school.

“All of you will soon discover that you are not just lawyers, but law teachers,”Maggs said. True to his nickname, Maggs ended his speech by saying, “Since this is Commencement, let’s get started.”

Daniel Diggs, a computer applications specialist, was awarded the distinguished staff award for his help with “computer woes.” The crowd burst out laughing when Diggs accepted his award and promptly walked off the stage, apparently not as eager to help with Commencement speeches.

Three distinguished adjunct faculty service awards went to Stanimir A. Alexandrov, Eileen Barkas Hoffman and Barry M. Nudelman.

Daniel Girwood received the award for highest grade point average for a part-time student, and Peter Swanson received the award for highest GPA for a full-time student.

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