New York Law School Celebrates Its 131st Commencement Exercises

The sun shined down on Lincoln Center as New York Law School’s graduating Class of 2023 joyfully posed for pictures with families, embraced friends, and helped each other straighten their robes and hoods. The scene was filled with emotion, nostalgia, and excitement, as students took it all in: We did it.

Inside the newly renovated David Geffen Hall, family members took their seats as NYLS’s trustees, honorees, deans, and faculty filed in. The energy reached a fever pitch and the audience rose for the graduates who entered to tremendous fanfare. The graduates waved to their families who waved back and hoisted bouquets.

Dean and President Anthony W. Crowell took the stage. “It’s a beautiful day to graduate law school,” he said, to cheers. He called the ceremony to order and introduced John Christopher Lopez ’23, who sang an impassioned rendition of the National Anthem.

Dean Crowell returned and addressed the graduates, saying, “You started law school among the most challenging of circumstances. Your grit, tenacity, and grace have been on full display this whole time.”

Student Bar Association President Nelson Melgar Martinez ’23 then welcomed the graduates. “There was no playbook for what we faced,” Martinez said, “and yet in the face of unprecedented circumstances, we learned. We adapted. Acclimated. Whatever the future holds, we know we’re ready.”

Dean Crowell returned to thank the NYLS community for its support — with special mention of Arthur Abbey ’59, the Chair of our Board of Trustees, and Diane Abbey, founder of NYLS’s Diane Abbey Law Institute for Children and Families. Dean Crowell addressed the graduates formally and spoke of the challenges in the world around our graduates, and noted that the pandemic was only one of a series of generational crises that served as a backdrop to their legal education, including daily gun violence, the erosion of basic rights, a deadly insurrection, the rise of disinformation, the wars around the world, and an epidemic of book banning—an attack on intellectual freedom and a free and democratic society. He implored the graduates to be defenders of democracy and to be stewards to help institutions and individuals to discern fact from fiction and truth from treachery.

Graduates and attendees then excitedly welcomed New York State Governor Kathy Hochul to the stage, where she received an honorary J.D. In his introduction, Dean Crowell noted that Governor Hochul was a history-maker as the first woman elected as Governor in New York, and like her, so too is the NYLS Class of 2023, of which 60 percent are women.

As Governor Hochul spoke, she jokingly made clear that “I’ll accept the degree as long as I don’t ever have to take the bar exam again!” to spirited laughs. During her keynote address, she spoke of the challenges facing our world and the Class of 2023’s future as advocates to good. And she reminded the class of their supportive community to lean on and the vibrant place — New York City and NYLS — to which they’ll always be connected. “With the world class education you just received in the most fascinating city on earth, with the love and support of the people here today, with the alumni network of people who want you to succeed, I am telling you right now, my friends: You are ready for the world and the world is ready for you.”

Dean of Faculty and Professor William P. LaPiana took the stage to introduce the Otto L. Walter Distinguished Writing Awards, given to the most outstanding published scholarly writings by faculty members and graduating students. This year’s faculty winners include Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professor of Law and Co-Dean for Faculty Scholarship Rebecca Roiphe and Interim Associate Director for Academic Success Amy Wallace. The student winners were Sarah Raymond ’23 and Elsie Tan ’23 Evening.

The first student speaker, Nermina Markisic ’23, addressed the graduates. In her speech, she talked about being the daughter of Bosnian refugees and the struggles that many experience while seeking a better life. She distinguished those struggles from the struggles of law students and smiled as she said that "to struggle in law school is a privilege." She proudly cited her presence onstage as the embodiment of the American dream, and she urged her classmates to take care of themselves as lawyers, so that they can take care of others who rely on them.

Next, Dean LaPiana named the graduates who are being awarded or are the finalists for the Trustees’ Prize for highest cumulative grade point average. Nicholas Negron  ’23 received the award for February graduates. The finalists among June or September graduates are: Courtney Arena  ’23, Elly Bergen  ’23, Tara Holzer ’23 EveningCorey Mavleos ’23 Evening, and Katherine Vask ’23.

Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Institutional Strategy, General Counsel, and Faculty Director of Externship Programs Matt Gewolb presented the Alfred L. Rose Award for Excellence to Kimberly Barbour ’23, Michael Genoino ’23 EveningTara Holzer ’23 Evening, and Rana Matared ’23.

The class’s second student speaker was Michael Genoino ’23, who served as the supervisor of the body worn camera unit at the Staten Island DA’s Office while attending NYLS part-time. In his speech, he noted the personal losses many suffered from pandemic, as well as the remarkable resilience of the Class of 2023. “What the future has in store for us is left to be seen, but our time at NYLS has proven that this brilliant, relentless, and unbreakable graduating class is capable of rising to any challenge. The journey ahead will be turbulent, but the mission could not be worthier. There is no one more ready for this moment than us.”

Genoino ended his speech with a note of gratitude toward his support system, including his dog. “I have to recognize my dog, Hennessy, who by my count has accumulated enough remote credits to graduate alongside me. So, Dean Crowell, how do I go about getting him a diploma?” he asked. In a humorous moment, Dean Crowell surprised Genoino and awarded Hennessy a “Juris Dogtor” degree, shih tzu cum laude, with a concentration in “leash-hold interests.”

In an emotional moment, Dean Crowell awarded the President’s Medal to two community members: Benjamin DeCosta ’75 and Sally Ann Harding. DeCosta is a nationally recognized aviation industry leader, who was the CEO of Newark International Airport and later Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Crowell cited his work building one of the world’s largest airport hubs as transformational to the global economy. DeCosta was a founding member and president of the New York Law School Black Law Students Association, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary earlier this year. Dean Crowell said that DeCosta’s “sincere dedication to helping new generations of NYLS students succeed inspires the entire NYLS community and represents the best of our alumni and their impact.”

Harding served NYLS for 32 years, and retired in 2022 as our Dean of Students. Diagnosed in 2021 with ALS, Harding watched the ceremony from home, and her daughter, Katie, accepted on her behalf. Dean Crowell addressed Harding directly, saying that she impacted thousands of students during her many years and that their impact on the world as lawyers is her “legacy at full scale. Indeed Sally, you are an irreplaceable force at NYLS who forever changed our institution and made each and every one of us better people and professionals in the process,” Crowell said.

In the final award of the ceremony, Dean Crowell awarded the Kathleen Grimm Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Dilara Guvercin ’23, acknowledging her commitment to public service.

Before the students received their diplomas, Alumni Association President E. Drew Britcher ’84 welcomed the Class of 2023 to the alumni community. He reminded them that the community of alumni they are about to enter are devoted to the new graduates’ success, because to quote John F. Kennedy, “a rising tide raises all boats.”

The students received their diplomas, walking across the stage beaming and waving at family members. Crowell and Abbey gave each one a scroll and took pictures with them. Abbey then conferred the degrees, making the graduates official.

The graduates and guests cheered, hugged, and celebrated. They recessed out of the Hall to Tina Turner’s song “The Best,” which Crowell said was an homage to the music icon, who died the day before, and a song that was extremely fitting for the Class of 2023.

New York Law School is proud to congratulate our newest graduates.

Celebrate With the Class of 2023

Check out how our graduates celebrated their accomplishments on social with friends, family, and loved ones.