Campaigning for president in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama was asked why he had chosen a career in public service rather than corporate law.
“When I was at Harvard Law School,” he replied, “I had a teacher who changed my life — Martha Minow.”
That teacher — now dean of Harvard Law — will be the keynote speaker May 19 as SUNY Law School celebrates its 123rd commencement exercises.
Minow, who is also a Jeremiah Smith Jr. professor at Harvard, is known as a human rights expert who has focused on racial and religious minorities and women, children and people with disabilities. She has written about the legal and ethical issues arising from private military contractors, the management of mass torts, transitional justice, and law, culture and social change.
She is the author of more than 150 articles, and her books include “In Brown’s Wake: Legacies of America’s Educational Landmark,” (2010); “Partners, Not Rivals: Privatization and the Public Good,” (2002); “Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence,” (1998); “Not Only for Myself: Identity Politics and Law,” (1997); and “Making all the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law” (1990).
Minow also serves as vice chair of the board of the Legal Services Corp., an independent nonprofit corporation that promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. She was nominated by Obama and confirmed by the Senate.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Minow received her law degree at Yale Law School before serving as a law clerk to Judge David Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. She joined the Harvard Law faculty in 1981.
The commencement ceremony will be in the Center for the Arts on the University at Buffalo North Campus. It will also include awarding of the Dean’s Medal by Dean Makau W. Mutua to an individual who is distinguished by his or her commitment to justice and the rule of law. The recipient this year is Justice Samuel L. Green ’67, who retired at the end of 2011 as the longest-serving justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, New York State Supreme Court.
In addition, the Ken Joyce Excellence in Teaching Award will be presented to Steven R. Sugarman, an attorney in private practice and 1985 graduate of the law school. Sugarman, a popular adjunct professor of basic and advanced mediation courses in the law school, has extensive training in neutral mediation and built a large mediation practice with the firm of Pusatier Sherman Abbott & Sugarman, in Kenmore.
A total of 212 juris doctor degrees will be awarded.