Attorney General Loretta Lynch addressed AU graduates and family members on May 22 in Bender Area for the Washington College of Law’s graduation ceremony. Her speech contained lessons and anecdotes from her work in Rwanda and called on graduates to make a difference in law and public service.
Lynch is the first African American woman and the second woman to be the Attorney General. She served previously as the Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. University president Neil Kerwin, University provost Scott Bass and WCL dean Claudio Grossman presented her with an honorary doctor of laws at the graduation ceremony.
Her opening remarks commended the crowd for the public service that they accomplished at their time in the College of Law and encouraged them to continue toward their goals in public service after graduating. As the current Attorney General, she emphasized the importance of the law to fight for equality and advance human rights domestically and internationally.
“These are the choices of those who put others before self,” she said. “These are the choices of champions. And champions for justice and equality are what we need in this world and in this profession right now.”
Lynch talked about making some choices that aren’t lucrative or easy, and urged the graduates to choose tasks that matter even if there is risk involved. She followed up with an example from her experience teaching a trial advocacy course to prosecutors for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). After the genocide in 1994, Lynch had to choose whether she should conduct a witness tampering investigation for the ICTR or run for elected office.
She decided to go back to Rwanda and became the special counsel prosecutor to the investigation, even though at the time she was building her own firm and going to Rwanda wouldn’t bring her profit or clients.
“See, I went to Rwanda to help people there, but they ended up helping me.” Lynch said. “I went there to share my talents and my experience but they gave me gifts that were deeper and broader and which I can never repay.”
Many of the new WCL graduates found her speech to be inspirational, especially her example of her work in Rwanda.
“I loved it,” said Tracy Bienenfeld Waller, a graduate with a Juris Doctor degree. “I thought it adhered very well to the school’s mission of human rights and international law.”
Lynch closed her speech by talking about discrimination blocking people from opportunity but encouraged graduates to help people surmount that obstacle. She wished for graduates to make choices that bring them closer to their ideals and to take a leap of faith.
“The world needs you to make that choice, we need you.” Lynch said. “The world needs champions; the world needs you.”