At commencement, Bright urges graduates to ‘stay engaged’

Commencement speaker Stephen B. Bright (left), president and senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights, talks with Professor John Bessler.

Commencement speaker Stephen B. Bright (left), president and senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights, with Professor John Bessler.

Stephen B. Bright, president and senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights, delivered the commencement address for the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Class of 2016 on Monday. It was the law school’s 89th commencement.

Bright began by congratulating Professor Michele Nethercott, student Towanda Luckett and other student-attorneys in UB’s Innocence Project Clinic, whose work helped free Malcolm Bryant, a Baltimore man who served nearly 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Bryant was released last week after the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against him after DNA evidence showed he was not the killer. (See earlier blog post.)

“I cannot think of a better example of the difference that lawyers can make – and of the desperate need that people have for us,” Bright told the full house at the Lyric.

Of the graduates, 283 earned a J.D. degree, 28 earned an LL.M. in the Law of the United States, and 11 earned an LL.M. in Taxation and/or a Certificate in Estate Planning.

Urging the grads to “stay engaged,” Bright encouraged them to spend time “in the trenches” – in prisons, jails, homeless shelters and courts, among other places.

“We need to be on the front lines,” he said.

Bright also emphasized the simple importance of extending kindness to people who are struggling — of recognizing their “dignity and humanity when nobody else will do it.”

He quoted the 19th-century writer Robert Louis Stevenson: “It is the history of our kindnesses that alone make this world tolerable. If it were not for that, for the effect of kind words, kind looks, kind letters … I should be inclined to think our life a practical jest in the worst possible spirit.”

Bright also urged the graduates not to “price themselves out” of the reach of ordinary people.

“You have a responsibility to make this system work,” he said. “You must be a part of it [and] not let the pursuit of wealth overcome the pursuit of justice.”

Malcolm Bryant with (from left) Professor Michele Nethercott, director of UB's Innocence Project Clinic; Associate Dean Vicki Schultz; and student-attorney Towanda Luckett.

Malcolm Bryant with (from left) Professor Michele Nethercott, director of UB’s Innocence Project Clinic; Associate Dean Vicki Schultz; and student-attorney Towanda Luckett.

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