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Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference and former leader of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, delivers AUWCL's Spring 2018 Commencement address.

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference, Delivers Commencement Address to Washington College of Law Class of 2018

On Sunday, May 20, 2018, American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) welcomed Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of The Leadership Conference and former leader of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, as speaker of its Spring 2018 Commencement.

Gupta addressed a packed crowd at American University’s Bender Arena, which included 332 students graduating with a Juris Doctor (JD) and 53 students graduating with a Master of Laws (LL.M); 118 graduating students received Pro Bono honors.

During her remarks, Gupta offered words of wisdom for the newly minted graduates, and encouraged them to recognize and utilize how their future roles in law and government can help shape the nation.

“The story of America has always been a story of hope – a story of determination, and a story of what can happen when we imagine a different future, and then work to make it real,” Gupta said.

“The most meaningful things that you will ever do in life are not going to be easy...If you work with purpose, if you hold onto hope, and you persist through discomfort, I know you will do good.”

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference

An experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work, Gupta served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division from October 2014 to January 2017. Appointed by former President Barack Obama as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta lead the division in a number of critical areas, including advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform; prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking; promoting disability rights; protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals; ensuring voting rights for all; and combating discrimination in education, housing, employment, lending, and religious exercise.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as deputy legal director and the director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and began her legal career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.

“The most meaningful things that you will ever do in life are not going to be easy,” Gupta told graduates, inspiring them to face challenges and uncertainty head-on. “If you work with purpose, if you hold onto hope, and you persist through discomfort, I know you will do good,” she said.

During the ceremony, Gupta received an honorary doctor of laws, presented by American University President Sylvia Burwell, Provost Scott Bass, and AUWCL Dean Camille Nelson.

“To the class of 2018, your education means that you are the future leaders, the innovators, the change agents, the voices of transformation, for justice and the champions of the rule of law,” Dean Nelson said during her address. “I have faith in you. I know you have the vision to imagine the world as it should be, to make necessary changes, and to lead us forward – we need you. This is your time, not ours.”

Namiah Duporte ’18 was chosen by the student body to deliver this year’s student commencement speech.

“Commencement marks the beginning, not the end, of the next chapter of our lives,” Duporte said, and quoting Henry David Thoreau, encouraged her fellow graduates to “go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

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