~Congratulations to the Legal Studies Class of 2020~
Remarks from the Director of Legal Studies, Professor Jonathan Marshall:
Sunday May 17 was supposed to have commemorated the 40th graduating class from the UC Berkeley Legal Studies Program. But this year has been like no other, with its wildfires, power failures, and pandemic. Legal Studies has never had a year like this one before, and it is my sincerest hope we do not have one like it again. All of you, graduates and continuing students alike, deserve a commendation for perseverance and learning even when learning was incredibly difficult.
Even though we are not able to celebrate in person, Legal Studies still wants to recognize the Class of 2020 for its hard work and achievements. The students of the Class of 2020 strove to gain admission to UC Berkeley, undertook an ambitious program of study, and worked hard to succeed in it. In selecting Legal Studies, they chose to engage with such basic and enduring values as fairness, rights, justice, inclusion, and freedom, and to consider the manner in which – and the extent to which – the institutions of law have been able to fulfill the lofty goals and aspirations that our society has placed on the law and its complex processes.
No one gets to college and certainly no one succeeds in college without the help, the encouragement, and the support of others. Such support often comes in the form of checks, cash and clean laundry; but no less often – and no less critically – it comes in the form of patience, tolerance and love. Legal Studies salutes everyone who supported our Legal Studies Class of 2020.
Legal Studies is a major that crosses boundaries and attracts all sorts of students. I would like to recognize several of the many types of students who make up Legal Studies for their achievement–transfer students, military veterans, student parents, re-entry students, students who are the first in your family to complete college–congratulations on doing all of that, and successfully completing your degrees in Legal Studies.
The Legal Studies Program also relies on its outstanding staff and Graduate Student Instructors to organize, teach, and assess classes. I want to recognize Lauri La Pointe, the Legal Studies Advisor, for humanizing the Cal bureaucracy and creating a home away from home for many of you; Erika Espinoza, the Legal Studies Scheduler, for organizing classes and being a friendly face up on Piedmont Avenue; and Yvette Cooper, our money person, for helping us with all sorts of other logistical issues.
Legal Studies graduates know how important our Graduate Student Instructors are. They work closely with our students in advancing their written and verbal communication skills, and share with Legal Studies students their own expert knowledge about legality, often in rich, one-on-one dialogs. Each year, Legal Studies students and faculty identify three graduate student instructors as outstanding teachers and mentors. In 2020, those Outstanding Graduate Student Instructors are Mark Leinauer, Colin Christensen, and Kavitha Iyengar. Thank you for helping our students succeed in the program and at Berkeley.
Every year at commencement, the faculty signify its great respect for the accomplishments of the entire graduating class by giving special recognition to the top five graduates (selected by their overall GPA) in the major. One of the top five is then selected to receive the Departmental Citation, and another is selected to give the student commencement speech.
Before introducing the Departmental Citation recipient and the Student Commencement Speaker, I want to introduce the three additional finalists.
Samuel Kung is a double major in History and Legal Studies. During his time at Berkeley he prepared policy papers for the ASUC, volunteered with JusticeCorps at the self-help center of the San Francisco Superior Court, and interned in the investigative service of the Fraud Detection and National Security section of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service. He has chosen to serve the public through a career in law enforcement, and has signed up with the Marine Corps and expects to attend Officer Candidate School in fall or winter.
Coco Xu is a double major in Legal Studies and Media Studies who was born and raised in Shanghai. While at Berkeley she interned at the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability and created a “know your rights” brochure for the San Francisco Youth Commission. She also interned at State Senator Scott Wiener’s office and served as a research assistant for Professor Sean Farhang of Berkeley Law. She wrote an honors thesis investigating how college students understand questions of law and politics through the novel and television show The Handmaid’s Tale. She will start law school at the University of Pennsylvania in Fall.
Raika Kim attended international schools in Japan and then high school in California. She majored in Legal Studies knowing that she wanted to study law. At Berkeley she participated in Cal in the Capital, where she had a summer internship at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Cal in Sacramento, where she worked at the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office; the Oakland office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she conducted intake interviews with employees bringing discrimination claims; and JusticeCorps, where she helped provide information on divorce, child custody, small claims, and eviction at the Hayward Hall of Justice. She wrote an honors thesis on how workers with disabilities negotiate their rights in the workplace, and will work as a paralegal for a civil rights and employment law firm in San Francisco before she head to law school.
This year’s Departmental Citation goes to Mia Villaseñor. Mia came to Legal Studies after her own family’s experience of injustice; she initially intended to be a Social Welfare major but “switched to Legal Studies precisely because of the major’s focus on viewing the law as a tool to enact systematic change for under-resourced and marginalized communities.” At Berkeley Mia has been a literacy mentor for elementary and middle school students through Berkeley United in Literacy Development (BUILD) and worked for Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA), a non-profit that provides job training and art sales experience to homeless and low-income youth in the Bay Area. She has also served as a legislative intern for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, where she attended hearings and wrote memos about the Title X domestic gag rule currently limiting the free speech of health practitioners, drug pricing initiatives, and anti-reproductive health judicial and administrative nominees. On campus, Mia has served as President of Berkeley’s Queer Student Union and Director of the Queer Alliance Resource Center. This year she wrote her honors thesis on the experiences of transgender and non-binary employees in large “LGBTQ+ friendly” corporations, under the supervision of Berkeley Law Professor Sonia Katyal. This summer she will work with the League of Women Voters of California on ending parolee disfranchisement, among other issues, and then apply to law school come Fall. Congratulations to Legal Studies Departmental Citation recipient Mia Villaseñor.
Legal Studies Student Commencement Speaker Natalie Leifer came to UC Berkeley from Irvine, California, and majored in Legal Studies and minored in English. While at Berkeley she worked at the Orange County Public Defender’s Office and assisted a graduate student in research for the Asia Floorwage Alliance, where she investigated gender-based violence on women workers in the international garment industry. She also was a member of Alpha Phi International Fraternity, serving as its Vice President of Programming and Education, and wrote her honors thesis on police interrogation of minors. She will start a JD program this coming fall.
After what has been one of the most challenging and emotionally taxing school years UC Berkeley has had in quite some time, I congratulate you on seeing your program of study through to its conclusion. Truly, this is graduation like no other. So, Legal Studies students, wherever you are, I invite you to rise, don your mortarboards, switch your tassels from right to left, and show yourselves to be Bachelors of Arts in Legal Studies from UC Berkeley. It has been an honor to work with you and learn with you. Congratulations!
Remarks from your Student Commencement Speaker Natalie Leifer:
I want to first begin by congratulating the Legal Studies graduating class of 2020. I am honored to share a message on behalf of our inspiring, resilient, and beautifully diverse group of bright students. It suffices to say that we have accomplished the nearly impossible. Not only have we graduated from the number one public university—we have done so against all odds. Together we have endured heated campus riots, devastating Bay Area wildfires, unremitting power outages, and now the onslaught of a worldwide pandemic. While this is not how we envisioned our final year at Berkeley to end, I could not be prouder of the way we have persevered. Each and every one of us has put in at least two decades of education to make it here (albeit “here” means something different to each of us in this moment). We have pushed ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of in order to finally say ‘I am a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.’ And for this, we celebrate.
One of the moments which helped me internalize the importance of Legal Studies occurred after working at the Orange County Public Defender’s office, where I had the opportunity to defend clients accused of the most violent felonies. There, I gained a perspective that my coursework did not prepare me for. While Professor Edelman had taught me the chasm between law on the books and law in action, and Professor Simon had stressed the continuing discrimination inherent in the criminal justice system, it was not until I witnessed these phenomena firsthand that I grew profoundly disillusioned. Over and over, I watched and analyzed an interrogation tape in which a young Hispanic man was subject to an aggressive, abusive, and illegal interrogation. This case and many others like it challenged my faith in the system of justice we choose to uphold. How can we steadfastly stand behind a justice system that can so often be fallible? This is the question our Legal Studies education has helped us to grapple with.
Whether it is by studying the foundations of our legal system, analyzing the Supreme Court’s influence on public policy, or exploring theories of justice, we were taught to think beyond the letter of the law and consider how legal structures interact with culture, politics, economics, and society writ large. In this way, our Legal Studies Program is unique. At Berkeley, we are able to incorporate history, sociology, philosophy, economics and political science into a single program of study. As undergraduates, we have had the honor and privilege of being educated by some of the most highly esteemed professors in the legal studies field. They have shared with us their research, their passions, and their knowledge of legality as an interdisciplinary field embracing theory, philosophy, history, and humanities.
Through Legal Studies, we have learned so many things. In the broadest sense, we have learned to examine and think critically about the law from many angles. We have learned that every angle presents a new opinion, a new conflict, and a new question regarding what role each group plays in the system at large. With each course we took, we developed an understanding that no group is able to function without exerting power over, or being subject to the power of, another. This is the way our legal system was built, and this is the way it continues to function—justice for some, and not for others.
While I do not purport to have a concrete answer to the question above, I have seen through my peers in this department the passion and contributions to solving these widespread failures and injustices. To be sure, radical change takes time. However, I now know that through the support we receive and give to one another, and with the academic foundation we have built here, we have the capacity to create tangible progress.
I encourage each and every one of you to join me, and use this momentum to set the trajectory for the rest of our lives. Remember the injustices, remember the failures, but more importantly remember the power we have as agents of change. As Legal Studies graduates, our intellect will push us to question and criticize the socio-legal structures we live in. Our drive will lead us to apply the knowledge we have gained. And ultimately, our compassion will empower us as a community to shape the future we hope to see.
Remarks from your Associate Dean, Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science Taeku Lee:
Congratulations Legal Studies Class of 2020!! Commencement is a special moment, a rite of passage from dependence to independence, learning to doing, consuming to producing.
You are on the threshold of membership in one of the most powerful and privileged communities anywhere in the world. That is the community of learned people with a degree from the greatest public university in the world and, it must be said, the greatest university, public or private, in the Bay Area.
You have all travelled a unique journey, often at great cost both literal and figurative, to get to this moment. Many of you are immigrants born in foreign lands, or children of immigrants born in foreign lands. Many are the first in your family to receive a college degree. Many have had to work to cover the enormous cost of a college education today. Many had to take a second shift at home to be a caretaker to your children, parents, grandparents.
And in the last few months, all of you have had to manage, in your own way, the unexpected and unimagined stresses and struggles of an unprecedented global pandemic.
In short, a Berkeley degree is no small feat. We are enormously honored that you have chosen to focus that degree on reading, writing, and learning as a Legal Studies major. Along the way, your professors and GSIs have taken you into deep dives into states of nature and theories of justice; rabbit holes of legal realism and legal formalism; new frontiers of adversarial legalism, hidden corners of critical race theory; and the many other mysteries of a Legal Studies major.
This world of ideas that is so dear to your professors, quite frankly, may not survive long past your days at Berkeley. In fact, it may not survive your working memory after you have properly toasted and celebrated your graduation from Berkeley.
That is partly for the right and good reasons that throughout your time here at Berkeley, you have also absorbed life’s many lessons beyond the classroom, by reveling, rebelling, experimenting, and sometimes just plain surviving. Through these experiences, formal and informal, a college education is at its best an indelible imprint that will mark the content of your character for the rest of your life.
Our sincerest hope is that this content, what will long survive your days as a Legal Studies major, are the lasting hallmarks of a great Berkeley education. A constant curiosity about the world. A recognition that inquiry ought to precede assumption and judgment. An ability, when inquiring, to do so fearlessly, critically, and to the uncompromisingly highest standards.
Because it is Berkeley, we further hope you will embrace as a hallmark a lifelong commitment to serve those in need, to make change for the better, and to fight injustice anywhere it lurks. You are graduating in the midst of unquestionably dark times. But remember this. As Legal Studies majors, to quote from the movies, each of you has “a very particular set of skills” … skills that will make you a nightmare for the wicked forces of apathy, ignorance, corruption, and cruelty.
And remember always, as I mentioned at the start, that your Berkeley degree confers your membership in one of the most powerful and privileged communities anywhere in the world.
With that power, find ways to empower others. With that privilege, seek opportunities to entitle others in the ways that you are now entitled. Own your membership in the community of Berkeley graduates, be in league with the alumnus of Legal Studies majors, and you can collectively be an unstoppable force.
Stay hungry, be fearless, serve your communities, dream of a future, and God’s speed, Legal Studies Class of 2020!
Legal Studies Honors Graduates
Congratulations to our Legal Studies Honors Graduates who participated in a rigorous two semester honors program culminating in a substantial honors thesis and presentation (this year on Zoom) at the Undergraduate Legal Studies Research Conference:
Delaney Arth“Women’s Approaches to Negotiation: The Role of Negotiation in the Gender Pay Gap”
Michael Brust “What do they mean by disabled? An analysis of the Americans with Disabilities Act”
Kariamu Cross “Responding to Injustice”
Blue Fay “Export or Adaptation: The Legal and Political Contours of Pride in Shanghai and Beirut”
Amber Feng “The Tangled Web of Campus Policies: Perceived Inequities and Effects on Political and Advocacy RSOs”
Julia Fox “Policing in the Age of Camera Consciousness: A look into Officers’ Perceptions of Body Worn Cameras”
Raika Kim “The Ability to Work: Perspective of Workers with Disabilities”
Natalie Leifer “Understanding a Vulnerable Population: San Francisco Police Officers’ Approach to Juvenile Interrogation”
Trevor Lemings “County Response to Realignment”
John Overing “Attitudes & Law Governing Controversial Speakers on College Campuses”
Mia Villaseñor “Symbolic Rights: Experiences of Transgender and Non-Binary Employees at Organizations Rated on the Corporate Equality Index”
Coco Xu “Furious to be Taken at Her Own Word: Understanding Legal Consciousness Through The Handmaid’s Tale”
Congratulations to our Top Five Graduates:
Natalie Leifer – Student Commencement Speaker
Mia Villaseñor – Departmental Citation
Congratulations to our Outstanding Graduate Student Instructors:
Graduation Scroll (These are normally handed out at Commencement to each graduate)