Sherrilyn Ifill to Serve as 2024 Commencement Speaker

Renowned civil rights lawyer and scholar's address will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Sherrilyn Ifill
Sherrilyn Ifill

Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. proudly announces that Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel emerita of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), will serve as the Commencement speaker for American University Washington College of Law on May 18.

"As the immediate past leader of the nation’s premier civil rights legal organization, Ms. Ifill is an heir to the legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and others who led the struggle for civil rights and equal justice under law in this country," said Dean Fairfax. "Given that our commencement is just one day after the 70th anniversary of LDF’s landmark May 17, 1954, Brown v. Board of Education victory, I can think of no better person to inspire our graduates as they launch their own journeys in the legal profession. Her remarkable career has left an indelible mark on the fight for racial justice and equality."

With a career dedicated to the pursuit of civil rights and legal justice, Ms. Ifill's commitment to equality extends beyond the courtroom, as evidenced by her pioneering work in challenging legal barriers to reentry for ex-offenders, environmental justice, and reparations. Her recent appointments as Senior Fellow of the Ford Foundation and as the inaugural Vernon L. Jordan Chair in Civil Rights at the Howard University School of Law, where she will soon launch the 14th Amendment Center for Law and Democracy, further solidify her legacy in the field. 

"During her time at the University of Maryland School of Law, she pioneered law clinics focusing on challenging legal barriers to reentry for ex-offenders, environmental justice, and reparations," Fairfax explains. "Her scholarly contributions, including the acclaimed book 'On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century,' have shaped conversations on race and reconciliation, and her forthcoming book, "Is This America?" promises to contribute significantly to the national discourse on race and democracy.

A graduate of Vassar College and New York University School of Law, Ms. Ifill’s accolades include honorary doctorates from New York University, Bard College, and Fordham Law School, and prestigious awards such as the Radcliffe Medal and Brandeis Medal, and the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Ifill serves on the boards of the Mellon Foundation, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the New York University School of Law. Her induction into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2019 further underscores her impact on academia and civil society.

"Ms. Ifill has been a consistent acolyte for the rule of law and encouraging members of our profession to live up to their highest ideals," Fairfax said. "I have no doubt that her address will inspire and challenge our graduates as they embark on their journeys in the legal profession."

~ Story by Keith Pierce