Graduates of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Lansing campus were honored during a graduation ceremony on April 8, at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center.
Fifty juris doctor degrees and six master of laws degrees were conferred to members of the law school’s Joseph McKenna Class. Hannah Leah Ortiz was chosen by her peers to present the valedictory remarks. Presenting the keynote address was John S. Brennan, son of WMU-Cooley founder Thomas E. Brennan Sr. A former WMU-Cooley professor, John Brennan is now a partner at Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes.
During the valedictory remarks, Ortiz thanked the law school’s faculty for educating the members of the graduating class, challenging them, and questioning their life’s choices. She shared how fear helped her and members of the graduating class get through law school.
“It’s not about what we’ve been through, but what we’ve overcome. Your past is not your identity. It is your preparation. The fear is the preparation. The fear of waiting for a final grade, or whether the exam software will work, or if you will be called on by a professor,” said Ortiz. “I would think often that I just need to stop, stop law school and say to myself ‘what am I doing, why am I here.’ I know many of you have the same feelings, that was your fear. I realized it isn’t right to make our goals smaller. We should be making our goals bigger. Don’t let the fear stop you. Everything we want is on the other side of fear. The grit, the persistence, and the fortitude it takes to become a lawyer is evident as only .36 percent of the population are lawyers. That means that we did it.”
Brennan shared examples of why individuals should not only “hold onto hope, but increase hope.”
“You are about to embark on a fulfilling and successful career in law,” said Brennan. He shared inspirational stories of success about former law students who have stayed in touch with him since they graduated from WMU-Cooley. While sharing their stories he noted five traits that each former student has in common. “One, they were all ambitious. That is a word that some people feel is bad, but it is not. Without ambition, Cooley Law School would have never been founded. It means you want to better yourself. Two, each of them have a passion for the law. They love being lawyers. Being a lawyer is not a job for them, it is a calling. Number three, they were not afraid to ask for help. They got that help by developing real relationships and friendship. You do not become a success by isolating. Number four, they persevered. They lost cases or lost elections, but that did not deflate them. They learned from the losses and used that knowledge strategically. The last and most important quality they share is that they are humble. They know who they are, where they came from, know they are still learning, and they appreciate that there are others that are more talented, smarter, or better positioned than they are. Instead of letting that bring them down they celebrate the success of others and are inspired by it to bring success to themselves.”
Each WMU-Cooley Law School class is named for a distinguished member of the legal profession. The commencement ceremony for WMU-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. In 1865 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, he 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 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.