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SANTA CLARA, Calif., May 18, 2002 - Fred Gray, a nationally prominent civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asked Santa Clara University law graduates today to continue "to fight for equal justice under the law" throughout their legal careers.
"If there is a lesson to be learned from my life, it is that you can make a difference, a difference in your life, a difference in the lives of your state and your communities, and everybody with whom you come in contact," Gray told 279 graduates and approximately 2,500 friends, relatives and faculty.
"If I was able to make a difference under adverse circumstances in segregated Alabama…you ought to able to make difference."
"It will be left up to you, as lawyers, as future judges, to use your degree and make a difference."
Gray was the featured speaker at 10:30 a.m. commencement ceremonies for the Santa Clara University School of Law, and was given an honorary degree by SCU President Paul Locatelli, S.J. Gray is to be named the new president of the Alabama State Bar Association in July.
Gray praised law school dean Mack Player and the University "for the outstanding job you are doing in the area of recruiting and maintaining minority law students at this law school… at a time when many institutions of higher learning are reducing their minority enrollments because of opposition to affirmative action." He reminded his audience that the SCU law school last year was honored by the California Minority Counsel Program for the school's commitment to diversity.
After the speech, the SCU president and Player conferred 259 J.D. degrees and 18 L.L.M degrees in the Mission Gardens on the SCU campus, including: the law school's first three master's degrees in intellectual property law.
This year's graduating class continued the law school's pattern of diversity: It is 57 percent female, and 43 percent male; 44 percent are people of color. The SCU School of Law is one of the 10 most racially and ethnically diverse in the U.S. in 2002, according to U.S. News and World Report.
In his speech, Gray said the battle for civil rights in the U.S. is not over. "While we have made progress, we live in a society where ...too many decisions are being made based on race and color. There are economic disparities existing between minorities and majorities that need to be corrected, because it is crippling this nation. There are more African American males in prison than in college."
"We used to have friends on the Supreme Court to help us with our cases, but now that same court is beginning to change some of those basic decisions," he said. "We used to be able to rely on the U.S. District Courts and the Courts of Appeals across the nation, and many of those courts are now no longer recognizing and protecting the rights of minorities and women."
"Racism is still alive," Gray told the law graduates. "Racial discrimination in the United States has not ended. The consequences of 250 years of slavery, segregation and discrimination have not disappeared. We still live in a racist society, and if that's going to change, you're going to have to change it."
"You must commit yourselves to assisting in destroying racial discrimination and other prejudices wherever you find them. You must prepare yourselves to live in a century where you no longer are in the majority, but in the minority. You must be concerned about seeking to serve others, rather than to be served."
Today's law commencement ceremonies also featured the announcement of SCU's first Outstanding Law Graduate: Bart Volkmer. Volkmer, who received his undergraduate degree from Creighton University, graduated summa cum laude, and was selected by a student, alumni, faculty, and administration committee as "the graduating student who best represents in his class the type of student Santa Clara University is most proud to graduate by reason of demonstrated qualities of scholarship, community leadership, and a sense of professional responsibility."
The award carried a prize of $5,000 made possible through a gift from the Mabie Family Foundation and Ron Malone, an SCU law alumnus. The award will be memorialized in a plaque to be permanently displayed in the School of Law.
In addition, 56 of the law graduates received certificates in high tech law, 43 in public interest law, 10 in international law and five in international high technology law.
Ceremonies for the 151st SCU undergraduate commencement will be June 15, where the speaker will be a long-time colleague of Gray in the civil rights movement, Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The graduate schools' commencement will be June 16, with Silicon Valley marketing veteran Regis McKenna the speaker.
After serving as Rosa Parks' attorney, today's commencement speaker was Dr. Martin Luther King's first civil rights attorney. Gray represented plaintiffs whose suits ended segregation in Alabama's public schools, secured voting rights and opened juries to African Americans, allowed the NAACP to operate in Alabama, protected students' due process rights, and won remedies for victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
About Santa Clara University School of Law
The SCU School of Law was founded in 1912. Approximately 900 students are enrolled in the law school, which offers specialty certificates in one of three areas: intellectual property law, international law or public interest law, and master's degrees in international law and intellectual property law. The law school's East San Jose Community Law Center, its Santa Clara Law Clinic and the new Northern California Innocence project provide pro bono legal services and clinical experience for law students.
About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located in California's Silicon Valley, offers its 7,400 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees. Distinguished nationally by the third-highest graduation rate among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. More information is on line at www.scu.edu.
For information about the Santa Clara University School of Law, see http://www.scu.edu/law.