Oldest student to graduate from UH Law School, 70, will earn her Juris Doctor degreeUniversity of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
At 70, longtime Hawai‘i businesswoman Kay Lorraine will become the oldest student to graduate from the UH Law School when she walks across the stage at Andrews Amphitheater on Sunday, May 14, as one of 110 JD graduates and four LLM degree graduates.
The William S. Richardson School of Law graduation begins at 4:30 p.m., rain or shine. A day earlier, on Saturday, May 13, Lorraine will also participate in the 4 p.m. commencement ceremony at the Stan Sheriff Center for many of the UH Mānoa colleges and schools.
In addition to being UH Law School’s oldest graduating student, Lorraine believes she’s also the oldest full-time law student in the country. After doing some research, she reports that a 74-year-old man graduated from an East Coast law school last year, and an 80-something-year-old woman may be a current part-time student in another East Coast law school. At Richardson, the oldest graduate before Lorraine was 66.
“It has been fascinating, frustrating, interesting, intense and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” says Lorraine, who also admits to throwing up -- twice -- on the way to her first law exam. “It’s maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life," she added, minus the throwing up, of course.
Lorraine’s life-long dream of law school has been 50 years in the making, ever since she first imagined a legal career back in high school in Ohio. “Sometimes life intervenes,” she says. But even without a college degree – until six years ago – she has excelled, running a film production company as president and CEO, working as a professional "jingle" singer with celebrities like Mel Torme, and becoming the executive director and spokeswoman for a number of local nonprofits, including Hawai‘i Women Lawyers, through the management company she formed when she and her second husband, Brad Bate, settled in Hawaii in 2003. While caring for her terminally ill mother, Lorraine was able to take an online college degree in order to improve her employment prospects as nonprofit jobs began drying up in the recession, and to maybe – finally – rekindle her dream of law school.
With college under her belt with stellar grades in two and a half years, Lorraine applied to Richardson, starting classes the same day that her best friend, attorney Bernice Littman, retired from the Cades Schutte firm. “I went to her retirement party during orientation week,” says Lorraine.
In her three years at Richardson, Lorraine has held two part-time jobs, become a favorite among her classmates as a go-to student always ready to help out, and someone everyone knows in the Law Library because she’s the one behind the desk who also hands out the earplugs.
But she worried at first that the other students would hesitate to accept this white-haired woman old enough to be their grandma. Her fears evaporated on the Monday morning after the costume party that first-year students throw annually for their second and third-year classmates.
"In Contracts class they awarded me a little trophy for the scariest costume,” she remembers. “That was so sweet of them, and that’s when I knew they had accepted me. But I had to tell the class the truth: that it wasn’t a costume, it was just me, an old woman with no makeup. I just put my head under the tap, washed off all my makeup, put my wet hair up in rollers, dangled a cigarette from my lips, and put on an old white nightgown. I said ‘Think of me as the Ghost of Christmas Future.’”
Lorraine is also a favorite among faculty members. At the Law Library, Victoria Szymczak, Associate Professor of Law and Law Library Director, thinks of her as the Plant Whisperer.
“We wanted some greenery in the Library and Kay took it upon herself to nurture our plants so we wouldn’t kill them,” said Szymczak. “She was able to coax our Peace Lily to bloom and right now we have six blooms on it. I will always think of her as the Peace Lily Whisperer.”
And Professor Frances Miller, a visiting faculty member from Boston University, remembers the day she arrived in the morning to find a ready-to-eat salad taped on her office door. The day before, Miller had admired the delicious-looking salad Lorraine was having for lunch, and Lorraine responded by bringing a salad for Miller the following day.
“That’s not what you usually find on your door,” chuckles Miller. “I had just said, ‘Where did you get it?’ And there was a salad for me the next day. You can’t not like her. She’s the den mother for the whole Law School.”
Adds Miller: “Anyone who’s ever been within 1,000 miles of Kay knows she has a heart of gold, is the life of the party, and is one of the funniest people on the planet.”
At Richardson, and elsewhere, Lorraine has been an inspiration. An acquaintance in his 40s who never finished college told her recently that she has inspired him to go back to college and finish his degree. Even author C.S. Lewis is often quoted as saying: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Professor Miller notes that, over her 45 years of teaching, she’s had just four or five students whose ages can even begin to compete with Lorraine, and they’ve all brought a rich, deep dimension to discussions in the classroom.
“I’m a big fan of exercising that brain muscle however and whenever you can,” says Professor Miller. “And what better than this?”
Professor Troy Andrade, Interim Director of the Ulu Lehua program that offers extra mentoring to students that have overcome adversity, called Lorraine “smart, dedicated and articulate, and someone who is going to make a big difference in our community.”
During the annual Ulu Lehua banquet Andrade, remembers Lorraine sharing her early concerns about how the other students would react to her. “She said that it was a huge compliment that by the end of the time in Law School no one called her ‘Auntie.’ She was just one of them, a student.”
Lorraine doesn’t yet know what kind of law she’ll practice, but she has interned in family law with Greg Ryan & Associates, and favors elder and health law. “I would love to be Perry Mason, but it takes a lot of time to build up a practice in criminal litigation, and right now I’m focused on passing the bar exam,” says Lorraine. But she is also happily accepting job offers.
For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/