Graduates of Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus were honored during a graduation ceremony on April 15 at the law school’s auditorium in Riverview.
Juris doctor degrees were conferred to 30 members of the law school’s Justice Joseph McKenna Class. Chosen by her peers, Jessica Sivillo presented the valedictory remarks. The keynote address was presented by the Hon. Jigisa Patel-Dookhoo of 18th Circuit Court in Viera, Florida.
Sivillo spoke on how meaningful moments in individuals’ lives disappear in the blink of an eye, and asked her classmates, “how did we get here today?”
“We have been waiting for graduation to come for what seems like a very long time, but it will soon be over in a few short hours,” said Sivillo. “Law school challenged us all to adapt and to grow. We made it to that big day we’ve all been waiting for. Here we are today. We did it!”
Pictured, from left: The Hon. Jigisa Patel-Dookhoo, Cooley President James McGrath, valedictory speaker Jessica Sivillo, and Professor Christine Church.
While speaking about next steps that graduates may face, Sivillo said, “one of the most important things to do right now is to take in this very moment. The phrase ‘take in this moment’ has so much meaning to this graduating class. This journey required sacrifice, dedication, and a long-term commitment. We got here with each other. We got through law school together and we will always cheer each other on.”
Sivillo also spoke about the importance of graduates taking on the next chapters of their lives.
“Let’s take the time to slow down and remember our purpose. Be proud of the goals we have achieved and the people we have become. Let’s be grateful to the people who support us and cheer us on.”
During the keynote, Patel-Dookhoo spoke about how she felt during her graduation from Cooley’s Michigan campus.
“I recall the emotions that I felt. The first was pride. I was the first of my family to graduate with a doctorate degree. The second emotion was fear. Fear is an amazing thing; it can lead to two results. First, fear can cripple you – if you let fear overcome you, you may not be able to move forward. Second, fear may motivate you. Let it motivate you, because in 2009, when I graduated, I would have never guessed that I would have had a job before passing the bar, or guessed that today I would be the first Indian-American women to serve on the judicial circuit here in Florida.”
While sharing how she achieved her goals after graduation and her success and fears, Patel-Dookhoo said, “I want to inspire at least one person to see their self in a position that they had never imagined.”
Patel-Dookhoo also spoke about the importance of achieving goals as an attorney, and using those skills to help others in the community.
“They see you and need your word of advice to pull them back into a position of a better place,” she said. “I ask you to know that you are more than capable of what you can imagine. Take risks and build your career, but at the end of the day, be happy.”
Following the presentation of diplomas, Cooley Professor Christine Church was presented with the Stanley E. Beattie Award for Excellence in Teaching. Church was chosen by the members of the graduating class for the honor.
Each Cooley Law School class is named for a distinguished member of the legal profession. The commencement ceremony for Cooley’s spring 2023 graduating class honors Justice Joseph McKenna.
As a young child, McKenna’s family moved from Philadelphia to California. At the age of 15, his father passed away. As the Civil War raged far away from California, he and his mother worked to keep their bakery afloat while McKenna studied law at the Benicia Collegiate Institute. He graduated from the law department in 1864. The following year, he was admitted to the California Bar, and within six months he was elected to the position of Solano County district attorney. In the mid-1870s, McKenna won a seat in the California legislature. In 1885, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he won passage of legislation extending railroad land grants, and improving port facilities. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison appointed McKenna to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he served for five years until he was nominated as Attorney General by President William McKinley. A year later, McKinley nominated McKenna to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. He was the last justice to take a seat on the Supreme Court in the 19th century. He retired from the bench in 1925.