St. John’s Law Celebrates Commencement 2023


Love bloomed for Ashlyn Stone and Matthew Pate three years ago in 1L Introduction to Law. They became friends after Ashlyn asked Matt for help with a case brief. Soon the two started studying together and, by the end of that first year, they were dating.

This past Sunday, standing outside Carnesecca Arena in graduation gowns, the couple posed for one last photo as St. John’s Law students before donning gold tasseled tams and joining classmates, families, faculty, and alumni to celebrate Commencement 2023.

Addressing the 247 J.D. and 43 LL.M. candidates, Dean Michael A. Simons reminded them of just how far they had come since he first welcomed them to St. John’s with a cue to “look to your left and look to your right.” The masked and socially distanced strangers viewed with that head turn had become the friends, professional network, partners, and future spouses sharing their Commencement milestone.

View Commencement 2023 Photo Gallery

After that first meeting, Dean Simons noted, the Class of 2023 embarked on a journey that took them through thousands of cases, hundreds of classes, countless papers and outlines, dozens of exams, and a few cold calls. Along the way, they also learned the law hands on as they devoted over 50,000 hours to pro bono work on behalf of the underserved and marginalized.

Persevering through the rigors of their legal studies and the challenges of a global pandemic, Dean Simons said, the graduates came to understand that “law is power” they can wield to help others and uplift a world that sorely needs them. “That’s what lawyers do: help people with their problems,” he shared. “That’s the purpose of your career.”

As the graduates discovered their power and purpose at St. John’s, they benefitted from the stewardship of Michael Perino, the Law School’s George W. Matheson Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, who led the Commencement procession as Grand Marshal. In recognition of Dean Perino’s six years’ of administrative leadership—a tenure that ends in June—Dean Simons presented him with the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Service to the Law School.

Service to others is also the hallmark of the career and life of this year’s Commencement speaker, Hon. Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives in the New York Unified Court System. After accepting the St. Thomas More Award for her outstanding moral leadership, Judge Richardson-Mendelson spoke to the graduates.

“I’ve been blessed to work in my deep passion areas,” she said of her long career upholding the core value of equal justice under law and serving the people of New York. In that time, she has learned that it can be okay to “take the safer course” and to “ignore what seems to be very good advice when it doesn’t align with your gut, instincts, and desires.” Judge Richardson-Mendelson also observed that “there are far too many among us—neighbors, friends, family members—who have lost trust in all public institutions, including the courts.” In service to those people, and to all who need lawyers, she told the Class of 2023, go forth, embrace the hard work ahead, and never “shy away from a bold, good try!”

With those words of wisdom, and to cheers and applause from the stands, the graduates joined the St. John’s Law alumni family. There to welcome them was Robert Gunther ’84, WilmerHale partner and president of the Law School Alumni Association Board of Directors. Taking the podium, he talked about the pioneering work of his Law School classmate and friend, Lisa Schreibersdorf, who founded Brooklyn Defender Services in 1996 and has led its rise to one of the nation’s largest legal services providers.

“Lisa is my hero,” Gunther said, adding: “Graduates, sitting next to you is the next Lisa Schreibersdorf. Look around, the bulk of your professional network is in the rows in front and in back of you. Remain connected to one another and to the Alumni Association.”

After the ceremony, reflecting on connections made, Ashlyn Stone said: “I’m from North Carolina and didn’t know a soul when I started at St. John’s during a public health crisis. But, in my three years here, I’ve made amazing friends, met the love of my life, learned from wonderful professors, and forged a meaningful career in the law that I’ll pursue full time this fall at Alston & Bird in New York City. I’m tremendously grateful. For all future St. John’s Law students and graduates, just know the difficult times are worth it to find more people like Matthew Pate.”