Graduation Speaker Tells Class of 2019 To Stand for Something

Linda Howard ’73 Was Groundbreaking in Addressing Sexual Harassment, Diversity in the Workplace
Linda Howard

Linda Howard ’73 holds the distinction of being both the first black student and the first woman to serve as the Law School’s student council president. She has continued to be a trailblazer for women and people of color in her career, including helping to address issues of harassment and parity in the workplace. Photo by Tom Cogill

May 19, 2019

Stand for something; it’s a powerful way to approach your life.

That was the message delivered by Linda G. Howard, a 1973 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and vice president for legal at Landmark Worldwide, a company focused on personal and professional growth, in her commencement speech to the Law School’s Class of 2019 on Sunday.

Howard, who attended a segregated school in her early years growing up in Virginia, holds the distinction of being both the first black student and the first woman to serve as the Law School’s student council president. She has continued to be a trailblazer for women and people of color in her career, including helping to address issues of harassment and parity in the workplace.

After sharing details from her own life, Howard presented a challenge.

“My invitation to you is to stand for something that is important to you, something bigger than yourself and your own comfort and your personal success and gratification,” she said.

“Standing for something is very powerful. Standing for something being possible is different than being wedded to your point of view. It includes speaking up for something, acting in the direction of something and inviting others to participate in causing something. It also includes listening to others. Standing for something allows you to deal with challenges to your point of view and your beliefs.”

Howard prefaced her appeal to grads by sharing an anecdote about how a mistake she made shifted her point of view and ultimately benefited a greater good.

Having previously worked as a law professor at Ohio State University and as an attorney in various roles in government, including as executive director of the White House’s Interdepartmental Task Force on Women, she moved to New York in 1981 to serve as counsel to the president of City University of New York’s Hunter College. Howard was now a “New York lawyer.”

“What I thought was to be a New York lawyer was to be right about everything all the time,” she said. “I thought I was pretty smart, but I knew I wasn’t ‘that’ smart. I was terrified.”

One day, while in a meeting with a group of executives to address their obligations related to a contract, she read them the wrong section. 

“I was horrified and embarrassed,” she said. "I looked up and I said to the group, ‘I am so sorry, but this is the wrong paragraph.’ One of the executives said, ‘You know, you could have kept reading. No one here would have known the difference.’”

The room erupted in laughter, with the executives not seeming to be the least bit upset.

“They laughed so hard that some of them had tears rolling down their cheeks,” she said.

But would the mistake have an impact on her job? Would she lose the esteem of her boss?

“When the meeting was over, I followed the president into her office to apologize for my mistake. She turned to me and said, ‘That was great! I want every presentation that you make to be just like that one.’”

It turned out the executives had valued something as more important than precision at that moment: fun.

“They never have fun at these meetings,” she recalled her boss saying.

“In that moment, I had to reconsider everything I knew about work, life and doing a good job. It was disorienting to discover that my mistake was not a ‘bad’ thing.”

From then on, Howard said, she gave herself permission to learn and make mistakes in service of being the best institutional lawyer she could be. And the organization benefited.

“In partnership with our president, I created a world-class affirmative action program that dramatically increased our number of professors of color, and I drafted the organization’s first sexual harassment policy.”

Howard went on to write “The Sexual Harassment Handbook” and become an executive in the New York City Law Department before joining Landmark in 2010.

She closed her speech by telling graduates that beliefs can change over time “with no diminution of who you are.”

Frances Fuqua, president of the Student Bar Association, introduced Howard. UVA Law Dean Risa Goluboff provided the overall welcoming remarks for the ceremony.

Goluboff also announced student awards, which were followed by the hooding ceremony and ceremonial scroll presentation. In total, 286 J.D., 30 LL.M. and 7 S.J.D. candidates were to receive degrees.

Awards Presented at Graduation

Margaret G. Hyde Award
To the graduate whose scholarship, character, personality, activities in the affairs of the school, and promise of efficiency have entitled him or her to special recognition.

Amanda Virginia Lineberry

James C. Slaughter Honor Award
To an outstanding member of the graduating class.

Kendall J. Burchard

Thomas Marshall Miller Prize
To an outstanding and deserving member or members of the graduating class.

Derek Anthony Keaton

Z Society Shannon Award
To the graduate with the highest academic record after five semesters.

William N. Hall

LL.M. Graduation Award
To an outstanding member of the graduating LL.M. class.

Lina Leal

Robert E. Goldsten Award for Distinction in the Classroom
To the graduate who has contributed the most to classroom education by his or her outstanding recitation and discussion.

Chinmayi Sharma

Roger and Madeleine Traynor Prize
To the graduate or graduates who have produced outstanding written work.

Rebecca Jewel Chandler
Jordan Minot

Herbert Kramer/Herbert Bangel Community Service Award
To the graduate who has contributed the most to the community.

Robert A. Pomeroy

Mortimer Caplin Public Service Award
To a graduate entering a career in the public service sector who demonstrates the qualities of leadership, integrity and service to others.

Spencer Ryan

Edwin S. Cohen Tax Prize
To the graduate who has demonstrated superior scholarship in the tax area.

Elizabeth Francesca Donald

Earle K. Shawe Labor Relations Award
To the graduate who shows the greatest promise in the field of labor relations.

Kyle Patrick O’Malley

John M. Olin Prize in Law and Economics
To a graduate or graduates who have produced outstanding written work in the field of law and economics.

Michael Weisbuch

Eppa Hunton IV Memorial Book Award
To a graduate who demonstrates unusual aptitude in courses in the field of litigation, and who shows a keen awareness and understanding of the lawyer's ethical and professional responsibility.

William Devlin McDermott

Virginia Trial Lawyers Trial Advocacy Award
To a graduate who shows particular promise in the field of trial advocacy.

Jamaica Tevoy Akande

Virginia State Bar Family Law Book Award
To the graduate who has demonstrated the most promise and potential for the practice of family law.

Sabrina Sara Schell

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