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May 2021

Four women law graduates throwing hats in the air in front of the Mission

Four women law graduates throwing hats in the air in front of the Mission

Santa Clara Law Celebrates Classes of 2020 and 2021 in Hybrid Commencement Events

Virtual and in-person events celebrate law grads who made it through historic pandemic.

SANTA CLARA, Calif., May 26, 2021—In a virtual ceremony and an in-person procession over the weekend of May 22-23, Santa Clara University School of Law celebrated the members of its Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 for successfully completing law school amid a historic global pandemic.

“Congratulations, graduates, for your tremendous achievements during a most challenging time for our world,” said Acting Santa Clara University President Lisa Kloppenberg, who was dean of the Law School when both classes first began their law school journeys.

In her virtual address, Kloppenberg reminded the graduates that wherever they end up as lawyers, their work will impact “the future of our country and our planet.”

“Whether you work at Apple or in the criminal courts,” she said, “many of you will work on cutting-edge issues of fairness and justice at the intersection of technology, law, business, ethics, and justice.”

This year’s commencement speaker was Haywood Gilliam, U.S. District Judge for the federal Northern District of California and former assistant U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, who served as chief of the Securities Fraud Section. He was previously a defense trial lawyer focused on white-collar criminal law, regulatory matters, and internal investigations. He is married to Estela Lopez Gilliam J.D. ’97, a member of the advisory board of the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center.

Gilliam, who received an honorary doctor of law degree during the virtual event, reminded graduates that having a reputation for honesty and integrity is vital right from the start of their careers—and that having the opposite reputation will quickly spread like gossip in a small town.

“The most valuable asset you have as an advocate is your credibility,” he said, sharing how, during his confirmation process to become a federal judge, the FBI and the Department of Justice called countless former colleagues, adversaries, and employers. “There was no way to call everyone up in advance and say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry about that nasty discovery letter I sent you 20 years ago; I was just having a really bad day’,” he explained.

He also urged the graduates to show “genuine humility,” which he said was best defined as “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Gilliam graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 1991, and earned his J.D. from Stanford Law School in 1994. He clerked for the Honorable Thelton E. Henderson, then the chief judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

In addition to the virtual ceremony available online, graduates from both classes were invited to attend in-person celebrations accompanied by up to two guests each on Saturday or Sunday. The events were attended by more than 200 people over the two days, all following social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols. Graduates arrived in their gowns and processed from Charney Hall, down Palm Drive, and into the Mission Gardens, where Interim Dean Anna Han presented diploma covers to the 2021 class.

"It was wonderful to be able to congratulate our graduates and their loved ones in person, and to celebrate their achievements after they persevered to complete their legal education under difficult circumstances," said Han.

Both events were livestreamed for those who could not attend in person. The videos are available online.

The 2021 class included 234 graduates, 55 percent of whom are women and 45 percent men. Forty-eight percent of the graduates identified as Caucasian, with 18 percent identifying as Asian, 22 percent Hispanic, 7 percent multi-ethnic, 4 percent African-American, and 1 percent as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

In the 2021 class, 69 graduates earned certificates in various areas of high-tech law, including nine who earned Privacy Law Certificates, and 10 who were the first to complete Santa Clara Law’s Tech Edge J.D. program, which combines legal, business, and technology education with hands-on skills development and individualized mentorship. Twenty-nine graduates earned certificates in public-interest and social-justice law, and 10 earned certificates in areas of international law. In addition, seven graduates earned combined J.D./MBA degrees, four earned master’s degrees in U.S. law for foreign lawyers, four earned master’s degrees in intellectual property law, and three earned master’s of legal studies in corporate compliance.

Prior to the ceremonies, the School of Law presented special awards to the following graduates:

  • Ernest Fok J.D. ’21 received the Inez Mabie Award for the Outstanding Graduate, recognizing academic performance, scholarly activities, leadership, and service roles at the Law School and in the community.
  • Alexandra Sepolen J.D. ’21 received the ALI-CLE Scholarship and Leadership Award, presented to a student who exemplifies exceptional character, leadership, and professionalism.
  • Jessica Miers J.D. ’21 received the Dean's Outstanding Student Leadership Award for exemplifying the Law School’s motto of “Lawyers Who Lead” and for serving other students, the school, and community.
  • Riccardo Pompeo J.D. ’21 received the John Bates Jr., Dispute Resolution Award, which is given in recognition of the student’s coursework, publications, performance, and service related to the field of dispute resolution.

About Santa Clara University School of Law
Santa Clara University School of Law, one of the nation’s most diverse law schools, is dedicated to educating lawyers who lead with a commitment to excellence, ethics, and social justice. Santa Clara Law offers students an academically rigorous program including certificates in high tech law, international law, public interest and social justice law, and privacy law, as well as numerous graduate and joint degree options. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Santa Clara Law is nationally distinguished for its faculty engagement, preparation for practice, and top-ranked programs in intellectual property. For more information, see

Media Contact
Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Communications | | 408-554-5121


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