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Posted May 25, 2010

Whitehouse '82 Urges Graduates to Embrace Opportunities

Sheldon Whitehouse '82

Video Video of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse '82 delivering the keynote address at the 2010 commencement ceremony.

Video Video of the full 2010 commencement ceremony.

Podcast MP3 | Dean Paul Mahoney

Podcast MP3 | SBA President Daniel Rosenthal

Podcast MP3 | U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

Podcast MP3 | Full commencement ceremony

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Contact: Rob Seal

Unforeseen and unimaginable opportunities await newly minted lawyers, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse ’82 told the Class of 2010 during the Law School commencement ceremony Sunday.

“Every day of your life in this profession is a potential turning point. Luck and hazard are ever-present, and your training can take you a great variety of places,” Whitehouse said. “Your life’s trajectory is never settled — never, never — unless you choose to stop seeing the choices around you and deliberately deliver yourself to the daily drudge. Don’t do that.”

The junior Democratic senator from Rhode Island gave his keynote speech to a class of 371 J.D. graduates, 38 graduates receiving their master’s in law and one recipient of the Doctor of Juridical Science.

Whitehouse also stressed the importance of graduates holding themselves to the highest standards of decency.

“Challenge yourselves against the highest standards of our profession’s history,” he said.

Whitehouse also told graduates that their work upholding the rule of law is central to the security and integrity of the country.

“You and I learned here that much of what is good in America is found in our rule of law and our insistence on due process,” he said. “All my experience has been only to confirm and reinforce what I first learned here: the central importance of the rule of law in our American system of government.”

Whitehouse pointed out that at the time he joined the Senate, Virginia Law had more graduates in the legislative body than any other law school. 

He also praised the school’s spirit of collegiality, which he said is unmatched at other schools of Virginia’s academic qualifications.

After graduating from law school, Whitehouse clerked for Judge Richard F. Neely in the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

He then served as a policy advisor and counsel in the Rhode Island governor’s office, and as the state’s director of business regulation. In 1994, President Bill Clinton nominated him as Rhode Island's U.S. Attorney.

Whitehouse served as Rhode Island’s attorney general from 1999-2003, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. He was invited to speak by the Student Bar Association Graduation Committee.

Former SBA President Daniel Rosenthal, who introduced Whitehouse, announced during the ceremony that 90 percent of the Class of 2010 pledged financial support to the Law School as part of the class graduation gift.

“The overwhelming outpouring of support from the Class of 2010 speaks volumes about the relationship we have with this school,” Rosenthal said.

During his address to the class, Dean Paul G. Mahoney praised the graduates for their qualifications and training and acknowledged the current economic uncertainty.

“I have on my desk a selection of newspaper articles of the type you’ve all seen about the downturn in the market for legal services. Under headlines like ‘A New Era for Big Law Firms,’ they contain gloomy observations about layoffs, reduced hiring and in some cases outright failure,” Mahoney said.

Some of the articles suggest the big law firm model is broken and that clients will never again be willing to pay for the effort of brand-new associates. Others focus on public interest organizations that are unable to hire despite great social needs, he said.

“There is one silver lining in these articles,” Mahoney told the graduates. “They were all published in 1981 to ’83 when I was a law student. The American economy is resilient and innovative, and I have no doubt that it will provide many opportunities for you to use the skills you have acquired. At some future reunion of the Class of 2010, we will all marvel at the many ways in which you will have succeeded in the interim.”

2010 Graduation Award Recipients

Margaret G. Hyde Award
Crystal Sue Shin

James C. Slaughter Honor Award
John Savage Moran

Thomas Marshall Miller Prize
Brett M. Merfish

Z Society Shannon Award
John Savage Moran

Law School Alumni Association Best Note Award
Brian David Schmalzbach

Robert E. Goldsten Award for Distinction in the Classroom
Greg Scott Hillson

Roger and Madeleine Traynor Prizes
David Eric Rhinesmith
David Kendall Roberts

Herbert Kramer/Herbert Bangel Community Service Award
Erin Patricia Crowgey

Mortimer Caplin Public Service Award
Thomas J. Krepp

Edwin S. Cohen Tax Prize Brian
David Schmalzbach

Earle K. Shawe Labor Relations Award
Stephanie Anne Accousti

John M. Olin Prize in Law and Economics
Jonathan Adam Wolfson

Eppa Hunton IV Memorial Book Award
Alexander Ibrahim

Virginia Trial Lawyers Trial Advocacy Award
Robert Carroll Boutwell

Virginia State Bar Family Law Book Award
Dawn Kelly Miller

Daniel Rosenbloom Award
Grace K. Huang
John Savage Moran

Stephen Pierre Traynor Award for Excellence in Trial Advocacy
Nicholas B. Nelson

Hardy Cross Dillard Award
Kenneth Christopher Shevlin