Law commencement speaker inspires class of 2014
Bringing a message that optimism, strong professional role models, and a “profound need to fix people’s problems” can forge a meaningful career, human-rights lawyer Almudena Bernabeu spoke to the 300 graduating students from Santa Clara University School of Law.
The law school’s commencement took place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 24, in the University’s Mission Gardens.
Bernabeu is the lead attorney with San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability’s (CJA) Latin America and Transitional Justice Programs. She is the lead private prosecutor on the high-profile case, underway before the Spanish National Court, against the Salvadoran officials alleged to be behind the massacre of six Jesuit priests, as well as their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. She also represented survivors of the Guatemalan genocide (including Nobel laureate Rigoberto Menchú Tum).
She said she got inspired in 2008 to use “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute in Spain the alleged Salvadoran killers of the Jesuits, after she worked alongside prosecutors of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who also was indicted in Spain for alleged human rights violations. “Spanish professionals had changed the landscape of international criminal law with the Pinochet case, and I had been by their side, learning, until my opportunity arrived,” she said.
She thanked Santa Clara University for helping shelter the only witnesses to the 1989 crime, and for helping her locate them to help prosecute the case. The witnesses, Jorge and Lucia Cerna, were in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony. “Santa Clara University makes of justice, not only a key piece of the syllabus, but a way of academic and personal life,” Bernabeu said.
Bernabeu is vice president of the Spanish Association for Human Rights, and serves as an adviser at the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law. She is a member of the board of the Peruvian Institute of Forensic Anthropology and the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation. She was awarded SCU’s 2012 Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize for her dogged pursuit of justice for the victims of human rights abuses across the world.
During the ceremony Saturday, University President Michael Engh, S.J., spoke to the graduates, challenging them with the questions "Who will bring justice to the innocent? Who will serve people who would not otherwise have legal counsel? Who will reinforce ethical decision-making across all industries?"
The 2014 graduating class comprised 48 percent women and 52 percent men. Forty-seven percent of the graduates identified as Caucasian, with 27 percent identifying as Asian; 12 percent Hispanic; 4 percent multi-ethnic, and 2 percent African-American.
Forty-six graduates received certificates in various areas of high-tech law; another 24 received certificates in public-interest and social-justice law; and 21 specialized in international law.
Among the awards for outstanding graduates given earlier in the graduation season, student Michael Branson received the Inez Mabie Award for the Outstanding Graduate based on academic performance, scholarly activities, and leadership and service roles at the law school and in the community. Sean Bothamley, Alexandra Logue, and Fritz van der Hoek each received ALI-CLE Scholarship and Leadership Awards, presented to students who exemplify exceptional character, leadership, and professionalism. Rebecca Slutzky received the Dean's Outstanding Student Leadership Award for exemplifying the school’s motto of “lawyers who lead” and serving other students, the school, and community. Dylan Crosby was named the Pro Bono Student of the Year, for the graduate who has volunteered the most hours during the 2013–14 school year.
Bernabeu received an honorary Doctor of Law degree at the event. She studied at the University of Virginia, received her law degree from the University of Valencia School of Law, and is a Ph.D. candidate in public international law at UNED University in Spain.