Deem­ing the Class of 2023 — most of whom began law school on Zoom dur­ing the height of the pan­dem­ic — as deter­mined doesn’t scratch the sur­face, not­ed speak­ers at Michi­gan Law’s Senior Day. The annu­al cel­e­bra­tion of grad­u­at­ing stu­dents took place on May 5 at Hill Auditorium.

Bridget Mary McCormack, president and CEO of the American Arbitration Association and former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, addressed the graduating class with excitement and a call to action.

“You’re here just in time. We have some sticky problems that need your attention.”

McCormack—who, as chief justice during the pandemic spearheaded efforts to make courts more accessible during the public health emergency and beyond—emphasized the importance of accessible legal assistance. She noted studies that show low-income people have inadequate or no legal help in civil cases in state courts; it is uncommon, if not rare, for both parties in civil cases to have lawyers; and the United States ranks poorly among other countries on the accessibility and affordability of civil justice. 

“A lot of other countries do justice better than we do,” she said. “The traditional idea of our justice system—the one we see on TV and teach in our law schools, where both parties are represented by lawyers who present evidence and make legal arguments for their clients—is fiction in the vast majority of civil cases in the United States today.”

Despite the statistics, McCormack expressed optimism that the recent graduates of Michigan Law, who include 310 JD students, 24 graduate (LLM) students, and one doctoral student, can help drive change. She noted that they are keenly familiar with the challenges the past few years have posed to individuals in our country, and many sought their legal education as a result. 

Student speaker Alanna Autler, ’23, is just one example. She addressed the trials the class went through while navigating law school under less-than-typical conditions.

“That first year, we faced loneliness, doubt, and the fear of infecting our loved ones with Covid. It was brutal, and yet we survived,” Autler said. “We made the best of it through every means possible: through virtual lunch talks, by eating out on the Quad when it was freezing cold, even, dare I say, through Slack—God love it. That’s how we got to know each other in the first place, that’s where we vented, and that’s where we cheered each other up after particularly bad cold calls. We made it work. What made that year bearable was each other.”

Alongside the height of the pandemic, Autler noted that the political landscape was undergoing severe changes. She saluted her classmates for the hard work and perseverance they have dedicated to the community around them for the past few years, specifically noting the recent approval of Proposal 3, enshrining reproductive freedom in the Michigan Constitution.

Stu­dent speak­er Alan­na Autler, 23, praised her class­mates’ per­sis­tence and social activism.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Senior Day UM 2023
Dean Mark West addressed the Michi­gan Law Class of 2023 dur­ing the Senior Day ceremony.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Senior Day UM 2023
Brid­get Mary McCor­ma­ck told the graduates, We have some sticky prob­lems that need your attention.”
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Susan Page taking a photo with a student on Senior Day
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.
Michi­gan Law’s Class of 2023 cel­e­brat­ed Senior Day on Fri­day, May 5.

Lead­ing up to the 2020 elec­tion [and con­tin­u­ing through the Novem­ber 2022 midterms], so many of you vol­un­teered, reg­is­tered vot­ers, and worked the polls from here to Detroit. This is a class that doesn’t wait for change, it makes change,” she said. “[…] Your gift is that no mat­ter what you’re hand­ed, you take it and make it bet­ter. You care about the world, but you also care about each other.”

Aut­ler posit­ed that her daugh­ter, Beck­ley — whom she wel­comed at the tail end of her 1L year — received a law edu­ca­tion along with her, say­ing, The only world she’s ever known is one where it’s nat­ur­al to do the right thing.” 

Col­lec­tive action, a sen­ti­ment McCor­ma­ck stressed as imper­a­tive for the future of law, is some­thing the 2023 grad­u­ates had no choice but to master. 

You’ve grown up in a world that’s more con­nect­ed, diverse, and tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced than any pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion,” McCor­ma­ck said. Of course, that’s true for every gen­er­a­tion, but you have the con­fi­dence to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo and the tools to scale your ideas. You’ve devel­oped col­lec­tive action mus­cle, per­haps as a result of the adver­si­ty you have all faced and wit­nessed through your for­ma­tive edu­ca­tion­al years.”

She under­scored her con­fi­dence in the recent grad­u­ates by encour­ag­ing them to con­tin­ue what they have already begun to accomplish.

Law is cre­at­ed by humans who were and are flawed and biased, and if the sub­stan­tive rule of law isn’t up for the chal­lenges we face, please change it,” McCor­ma­ck said. “[…] Then, togeth­er — all of you col­lec­tive­ly — show us a bet­ter way for the rule of law. I’m so glad you’re here.”