Orientation for large incoming class at UH Law School inspires students to seek justice

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Aug 21, 2017

The incoming Law School class takes the Student Pledge at the Supreme Court.
The incoming Law School class takes the Student Pledge at the Supreme Court.
Law students enjoy activities in downtown Honolulu.
Law students enjoy activities in downtown Honolulu.

In an inspirational moment at the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, the incoming UH Law School Class of 2020 stood and faced Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, raised their right hands in unison, and took the Law School Student Pledge that includes the commitment “to guard zealously legal, civil and human rights which are the birthright of all people, and, above all, to endeavor always to seek justice.”

“You are picking up the torch from an incredible person,” CJ Recktenwald told the students, speaking in admiring terms of the man whose name graces the Law School. “You are heirs to the legacy of a great person. It’s exciting to see people come to this Law School and find their way, their voice, and to speak up for people in our community.

“I am confident you will hold those values, and, as CJ Richardson did, make the world a more just place.”

The moving ceremony was part of an intensive week of orientation activities last week for 107 incoming students who begin classes today at the William S. Richardson School of Law. The class includes 34 graduates from UH Mānoa, UH Hilo and UH West Oʻahu, plus international students from Germany, Canada, Brazil, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and South Korea.

As the semester began this morning, Acting Dean Melody MacKenzie ‘76 welcomed the students, and shared an email message from the Deans about events in Charlottesville and elsewhere, emphasizing the caring environment fostered by Hawai‘i’s Law School community, and the encouragement of active and lively civil discussion.

“Given the events over the last few weeks in Charlottesville and other parts of the United States and the world, we believe that it is important to emphasize that at Richardson we recognize that we are all part of one human family, no matter where we come from or what our individual cultural and religious backgrounds and beliefs, or our political views,” said MacKenzie.

“As one family or ‘ohana, we have a responsibility – a kuleana – to each other, and to this planet, to seek justice, and to mālama or take care of one another and the lands, oceans, and skies that we are blessed to call home.” She emphasized, as well, that the Law School encourages discussion and public discourse “on issues vital to us individually and as a society.”

As MacKenzie took the helm of the Law School during Orientation week, she also spoke of Richardson values, telling students that they have come to a unique Law School that fosters “excellence, inclusion, support, and especially, compassion” within a collaborative, multicultural community that prepares students for careers that advance justice and the rule of law.

Members of the incoming class include 80 full-time JD students; 14 Evening Part-Time Program students; 5 LLM (Masters) students; 2 SJD (doctoral) students; 2 transfer students; 2 visiting students; 1 exchange student; and 1 Advanced JD student. They have a vast array of backgrounds, from teachers to paralegals, to a physical therapist, forensic accountant, TESL instructor, psychologist, neuro-scientist, SCUBA teacher, CPA tax specialist, members of each U.S. military sector, and a mom “who just put five kids through college.”

Hilo’s Deion Cua is pursuing law because of a long-time interest, and his desire to help his community. “Law is a new language,” said Cua. “I want to be someone there to protect people when they don’t know their rights.”

During Orientation week’s Downtown Day last Wednesday, students heard inspirational stories about the man in whose steps they’ll walk as “Richardson Lawyers;” listened to tips from Alumni Association representative Tyler Gomes ’12 (work hard and don’t just count on being smart, but also seek mentors); were cautioned by Associate Deans Denise Antolini and Ronette Kawakami ‘85 about the importance of professionalism, civility and courtesy; toured the Judiciary History Center and its rich displays from Hawai‘i’s past; and were inspired by the words of Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna ’82 about how opportunities under federal Title IX legislation spearheaded by the late Hawai‘i Rep. Patsy T. Mink made college possible for her and many other women.

Said Associate Justice McKenna, “In 1972, when Title IX passed, only 7% of U.S. law school graduates were women; only 9% of medical school graduates were women. Because of Title IX, now over 50 percent of U.S. undergraduate and graduate degree recipients are women. I believe that law school enrollment for women is about 50 percent also.” She went on to stress that, no matter what profession each student pursues, “your Richardson Law degree will be invaluable in placing you on a wonderful life journey.”

The students also heard Duane R. Fisher of Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher speak about the vast array of opportunities a law degree provides as well as the importance of giving back to their community. He shared words of encouragement he lives by, telling students that challenges they face can be seen either as obstacles to their growth or opportunities. “It’s up to you to choose,” he told the students. “I’d encourage you to see challenges as opportunities.”

The law firm generously sponsored lunch for the students at the Pacific Club where the morning session was held.

The incoming class also received career advice from Craig W. Jerome ’07, an assistant federal public defender; the Honorable Shirley M. Kawamura, a judge of the O‘ahu First Circuit; and Craig P. Wagnild, former president of the Hawai‘i State Bar Association and a partner at Bays Lung Rose Holma.

Many of the sessions resonated with reverence for the man for whom the Law School was named -- always fondly referred to as "CJ" -- including a welcome address on the first day by former Gov. John Waihe‘e ’76, a member of the first graduating class who went on to serve as Governor from 1986 to 1994.  That reverence continued as CJ’s son, attorney William K. "Bill" Richardson shared stories about his father and his commitment to creating equal opportunities, including legal training, for Hawai‘i’s people.

“Dad said, ‘Find your passion and do it as hard as you can,’” Richardson told the students. And he encouraged the incoming class to “join together and target the issues of your time” just as his father had tackled racism, lack of access to advanced education, and other issues he and his peers faced in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and beyond. Retired Judge Barbara “Bebe” Richardson also spoke during orientation activities, sharing other stories about their father, including how her grandparents had rented out his bedroom in order to help afford the cost of his law school on the Mainland.

That reverence was especially meaningful as Professor MacKenzie steps in as Acting Dean while Dean Avi Soifer is on a four-month professional leave of absence. MacKenzie, a member of the Law School’s first graduating class, was also one of the first clerks for CJ Richardson from the Law School, and a person schooled in his courtroom and imbued with the values he cherished in protecting cultural and indigenous rights and traditions. She shared memories of moments with “CJ” that made deep impressions on her life, such as the day when the Polynesian Voyaging Society canoe Hokule‘a returned home from its first extraordinary voyage to Tahiti, and CJ gathered all his clerks and drove them down to the dock so they had the chance to greet the arriving vessel that was to have such a lasting impact in Hawai‘i and around the globe.

The orientation schedule also included an introduction of faculty and staff; mini law lectures by a number of faculty members; descriptions of the nuts and bolts of financial aid, fund-raising, school regulations and organizations, and safety and counseling services; and finally, a circle island bus tour.

For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/