In his remarks Thursday to the Class of 2023, Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85 told the graduating J.D., LL.M., and S.J.D. students arrayed across Holmes Field that he felt “a particularly acute sense of gratitude and pride as we see you off today.” He emphasized that, in addition to the usual work of law school, the graduating J.D. students had dealt with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as they began their law school journey. “Yet through all of it, you excelled. You came to class prepared and ready to engage. You created real community with teachers, staff, and classmates.”

Manning also acknowledged members of the Class of 2023 — J.D.s, LL.M.s, and S.J.D.s — for having done a wonderful job building a “vibrant” community, making “student life and student orgs stronger, more innovative, more interconnected than ever before.” Manning added that, “in a time of polarization,” the students did not shy away from the hard questions, “but rather found a way to engage with those questions and with one another.”

Manning then praised the students for stepping up to help others during a challenging time. “Amidst all of this, you served others, and you did so spectacularly,” he said. Graduating J.D. students, the dean shared, had broken the law school’s record for pro bono service, with an average of 674 hours per student of pro bono service on behalf of clients in need of legal assistance.

“We are so proud of you and so grateful for your service,” Manning said, adding that, “in the great tradition of Harvard lawyers, you worked to achieve something larger than yourselves, to dedicate your time and skills and gifts and heart to making the world better,” he said.

Manning urged the graduating J.D., LL.M., and S.J.D. students in the audience to “hold onto that courage and spirit” as they work to uphold the profession’s highest ideals, including the rule of law, fair process, equal justice and constitutional democracy, especially in times that can seem especially fraught. “The profession you have chosen,” he said, “has never been more important, and the work has never been more consequential.” Manning concluded his remarks by encouraging departing graduates “to keep faith, even — or perhaps especially — when times are hard and uncertain, as they are today.”

The dean’s comments came during the school’s annual commencement ceremony on the afternoon of May 25. Following his remarks, 735 graduating students walked across the stage to shake Manning’s hand and receive their degrees as classmates, friends, family, faculty, and staff looked on, both in person and across the globe via a livestream presentation.

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