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Standout Ceremony for LLM Commencement

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Representing 46 countries, Class of 2018 is Gould’s most diverse ever


By Diane Krieger


Decked out in their black master’s gowns with purple hoods, 442 graduate and international law students queued up on the Great Lawn of USC Village—a short march from the end of their academic journey. Minutes later, they entered the tent to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” cheered by loved ones holding camera phones overhead to record the moment.



Last Friday marked USC Gould’s 15th LLM ceremony, and the inaugural year of three new graduate degrees: the LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution, the Master of Dispute Resolution and the Master of Studies in Law. 


It was USC Gould’s most diverse class ever—representing 46 countries.


Appropriately, diversity and inclusion were the evening’s major themes. 


The keynote speaker was Egyptian diplomat Lamia Mekhemar, consul general in Los Angeles and former ambassador to the Holy See (Vatican).  


Mekhemar drew lessons from her own life as “a Muslim woman from the Middle East” to underscore the importance of working toward inclusion. She shared anecdotes about her father and husband, who both faced political repression and accepted the consequences of standing up for what’s right.


She lamented the social exclusion of a homeless woman in Alexandria — a ghost from Mekhemar’s childhood, whose cry, “I have no place to stand,” still rings tragically in the ambassador’s ear. And she celebrated the uplifting story of an Egyptian boy from a poor village who is today an international sports celebrity and unofficial Arab cultural ambassador. 


Brian Peck, director of the Center for Transnational Law and Business with LLM keynote speaker, Ambassador Lamia Mekhemar.

It is a triumph of inclusiveness, Mekhemar said, that Mohammad Salah’s humble origins didn’t hold him back. The Liverpool soccer star has become “an icon for youth not only in Egypt and the U.K., but all around the world,” she said. His inclusion has powerful ripple effects. “The team’s fans are chanting: ‘If Mo Salah is Muslim, I want to be a Muslim too.’”

USC Gould Dean Andrew Guzman referenced another iconic figure—the American cowboy—in his welcome remarks. 


“I want to encourage you to embrace the cowboy nature of American law and the American legal professions,” he told the international students, making the Old West archetype a metaphor for the takeaways they should carry into their professional lives.


“As you head out in the world to do the incredible things I know you’ll do,” Guzman said, “I hope you’ll adopt one feature of the best cowboys: be the one in the white hat. Pursue justice, defend those who deserve defending. Respect the rights of every person.”


Before the ceremony, the mood on the Great Lawn was both relaxed and jubilant.


Hector and Max Duran had driven from Tecate, Mexico to attend their brother Edgar’s graduation. They’d brought along Barry, an irrepressible pug, and Robin, a beguiling chihuahua, to share the big day. Their mother, father, an uncle and two cousins rounded out the celebratory family circle. 



“We’re so proud of Edgar,” said Hector, an engineer from Baja California. “One hundred percent,” echoed Max, a medical student in Mexico.


Some graduates were looking forward to going home.  


Xiao Feng “Vincent” Fu is eager to apply his newfound understanding of how Hollywood movies are financed. “It is totally different from other industries,” said the 40-year-old Chinese attorney and financial manager, who, upon his return, plans to make a name for himself in the booming Chinese movie business.


Other grads have plans to stay a while longer in America.


Aunchana “Nook” Rawaraka, who earned a business certificate along with her LLM, is actively looking for an internship. Eleven family members had traveled from Vietnam to see her walk, and they’ll return without her. Rawaraka, 25, hopes to pass the bar and stay in Los Angeles another year through the OPT temporary work program.  


Other grads are laying more permanent roots in California.



Andrei Cimpoaca, 29, a recent immigrant from the Republic of Moldova with extended family in the San Francisco and Sacramento area, is excited to be interning next year for Superior Court for Judge Mary Thornton House. A constitutional lawyer in his homeland, Cimpoaca dreams of someday becoming a judge here. “I am studying very hard for the bar,” he said, “and sleeping less and less.”


Turkish immigrant Dogan Baydan dreams of returning to USC Gould to serve on the faculty. 


A member of the inaugural class of USC Gould’s new LLM in ADR, the Palm Springs resident has practiced international commercial law for 30 years. But at 53, Baydan said, “I’m changing my path. I was part of the fight before. Now I am going to be part of the solution.”  


After spending the summer in The Hague, he intends to pursue a doctorate in ADR at a European university. “Probably I will come back and apply for a teaching job at USC. It’s my ultimate goal!” he said. 



Dean Andrew Guzman congratulates a new graduate.

The speeches concluded, the 442 graduates advanced to the podium to receive their diplomas. Designated name readers had practiced pronouncing each name in advance, aided by phonetic cues provide by each student. The roll-call went off without a hitch. 


Guzman wrapped up the emotional evening with a dry quip: “Diversity is a fabulous thing, but it makes reading names very hard.” 


A small price to pay for a culture of full inclusion.


View the full Commencement photo album.

Photos: Brett Van Ort



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