The Harvard Law School Class of 2018 selected Carol Steiker ’86 for the prestigious Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence.

In her introduction, Class Marshal Alejandra Huerta Gutierrez described Steiker as “a professor that students dream of and that others professors seek to emulate.” She “does not shy away from the tough conversations,” Gutierrez said.

Steiker thanked the class for the award, noting that it was “especially well-timed,” as she was about to attend her 35th Harvard College reunion. Steiker encouraged graduates to recognize and nurture two issues that she has appreciated more as time passes: They should not close themselves off to those who see the world differently; and they should always ask what is right and best for society when considering legal arguments.

Steiker closed with an analogy borrowed from paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Knowledge, she said, is an expanding balloon, in which the volume of knowledge is contained by the unknown. “As the sphere expands, so does the boundary of what we don’t know,” she said, “but that ratio is not constant. Volume grows faster, and always outpaces the growth of ignorance. May your spheres be ever expanding.”

Steiker is the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at HLS. Her expertise in the criminal justice field ranges from substantive criminal law to criminal procedure to institutional design, with a focus on capital punishment. She co-wrote her most recent book, “Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment,” with her brother, Jordan Steiker ’88, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

As an HLS student, Steiker was the second woman to be president of the Harvard Law Review. Prior to joining the HLS faculty, Steiker clerked for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court, and was a staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. She has worked on pro bono litigation projects on behalf of indigent criminal defendants, including death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Class of 2018 also selected Steiker to give a Last Lecture, a talk organized by 3L and LL.M. Class Marshals.

The Sacks-Freund Award recognizes a single faculty member each year for teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns, and general contributions to student life at the law school. It was established in 1992 and is named in honor of the late Harvard Law School Professors Albert Sacks ’48 and Paul Freund S.J. D. ’32. Recent recipients include Mark Wu, Jeanne Suk ’02, Jon Hanson, Tyler Giannini and Benjamin Sachs.