The challenges our country faces with race relations, sexual harassment, and gender orientation will continue to divide us unless a new generation of leaders exercises its ability to initiate change.
That was the message Thursday from Justice Cheri Beasley to the 2018 University of Tennessee College of Law graduating class during a commencement ceremony in Thompson Boling Arena.
“As we think about ways to move our profession forward and to move our communities forward, we must be clear what’s on the agenda,” she said. “We also must be comfortable with the notion that we can unite about the things that make this country great but also disagree.”
Beasley, a 1991 alumna of the UT College of Law, has served as a justice in the North Carolina Supreme Court since 2012 following her work as an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and as a district court judge in the 12th Judicial District of Cumberland County.
Beasley encouraged graduates to understand and accept their responsibility as they move into the next phase of their lives.
“Our country and state are facing challenges,” she said. “Because you are graduating from UT Law, you are more equipped. Your studies and experiences through this law school will put you ahead of the game.
“It is really in times like these, that young people, new lawyers like you, break new ground.”
Beasley said communities look to lawyers to create solutions as the country faces some of its greatest challenges, and many of today’s challenges revolve around race relations.
“The best way to broach issues of race and gender is by presenting evidence-based reasoning,” she said. “This helps put our implicit biases at bay and helps us think like lawyers as problem-solvers.”
Leaders who are most successful appreciate diversity of thought, Beasley said.
“Constructive disagreement produces a catalogue of ideas which make the group better and stronger,” she said. “You, graduates, are empowered. Empowered to lead. And in this empowerment, you have the opportunity to plant … seeds of hope, seeds of trust, seeds of goodness, and seeds of legacy.”
Following Beasley’s address, Wesley Love, who was selected by his classmates as the student speaker, teased but also praised his peers for their support of one another.
“As we go out to pursue our various careers I ask that you remember the lessons we learned from one another,” Love said. “We learned how to push ourselves to be the best at whatever it was we were doing.”
Dean Melanie Wilson recognized Bo Cook, whose contributions and scholarship were endorsed by College of Law faculty, as the outstanding graduate of 2018.
In addition to receiving the highest honors in 11 of his law courses, Cook was executive editor of Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law and completed three internship opportunities with prominent law firms in Nashville and Chattanooga. After graduation, Cook will join the law firm of Bass, Berry and Sims in Nashville.
Wilson also commended the 109 graduates for raising more than $46,000 in support of the 3L Class Gift Endowment and for completing more than 11,700 hours of pro bono service during their graduate careers – with 9,000 hours completed just this year.
View the ceremony in its entirety via this link.