You Are Ready! Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Told the WCL Class of 2023

The Nation's First Black Woman Supreme Court Justice Inspires Graduates in Her Inaugural Commencement Speech

Dean Roger Fairfax (right) along with AU President Sylvia Mathews Burwell (left) presented an honorary degree to Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during the commencement ceremony. (Photo: Amy Hart)

It was a historic day for American University Washington College of Law as The Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, graced the commencement ceremony on May 20 as the esteemed guest speaker. This marks Justice Jackson's first commencement speech since her groundbreaking appointment as the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

The anticipation and excitement in the auditorium were palpable as Dean Roger A. Fairfax, Jr. introduced Justice Jackson to the Class of 2023. Dean Fairfax expressed his utmost admiration saying, "Thank you for making the American University Washington College of Law the VERY FIRST law school Commencement address you deliver as a member of the Supreme Court of the United States. Our graduates will never forget this day."

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson inspires the WCL Class of 2023 (Photo: Amy Hart)

Dean Fairfax, along with AU President Sylvia Burwell, presented an honorary degree to Justice Jackson before the audience of graduating law students, faculty, staff, and proud family erupted in thunderous applause as she stepped up to the podium.

Justice Jackson commenced her speech by expressing gratitude for the warm welcome and acknowledging the significance of the moment. With grace and eloquence, she shared stories from her personal and professional life, intertwining her experiences with powerful lessons of resilience, determination, and the pursuit of justice.

As she spoke, her words resonated deeply with the graduating class, many eager to follow in her footsteps and make their mark in the legal field. As a self-professed super fan of the hit reality show, 'Survivor,' Justice Jackson drew parallels about her challenging path to success, providing invaluable lessons in perseverance and survival "even when the odds are stacked against you."

"Do your best to shut out distractions, use your time wisely and figure out how to make the most of what you have," she told the graduates. "Lean into your personal strengths and use them to get you where you want to go."

Before the ceremony, 2023 graduates were ready to be inspired by Justice Jackson. (Photo: Keith Pierce)

The audience hung onto every word, captivated by Justice Jackson's wisdom and the weight of her historic appointment. The room was filled with hope, as her presence symbolized the progress and inclusivity the legal profession strives to achieve.

"Play the long game," said Justice Jackson. "Do that and you will not only survive, you will thrive for the rest of your professional lives."

Alongside Justice Jackson, Kimberly Alli, vice president of the Black Law Students Association, was honored to be this year's student commencement speaker. Alli spoke to her classmates with heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity to share the stage with the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

Kimberly Alli, vice president of the Black Law Students Association served as this year's student commencement speaker. (Photo: Amy Hart)

"I am so grateful and overwhelmed in the best possible way about it," she said.

Justice Jackson ended her speech with a charge to graduates saying simply, "You … are … ready!"

After the speech, a standing ovation erupted, lasting several minutes, as the graduates and attendees paid homage to her remarkable achievements and unwavering dedication to justice. The significance of this moment was not lost on anyone present, as they recognized the impact Justice Jackson's words would have on the future of the legal profession.

"Today's address from Justice Jackson was extraordinary and inspired our amazing graduates to reach higher and make their mark," Fairfax said. "She is an exemplar of the excellence we work to instill in our students every day.  We were thrilled by her message to our graduates as they launch into careers of impact and meaning. I am grateful for Justice Jackson's generosity of time and spirit, and delighted that her first commencement speech as a member of the Supreme Court was delivered right here at our history-making law school."

Graduates of the AUWCL Class of 2023. (Photo: Amy Hart)

As the ceremony drew to a close, the graduates left the auditorium inspired and empowered, ready to embark on their own journeys armed with valuable insights and guidance from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. This inaugural commencement speech, joined by student speaker Kimberly Alli, will forever be etched in the memories of those fortunate enough to witness this historic moment—a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations to come.

Click here to view the live stream of Justice Jackson's commencement speech.

For more commencement photos, click here.

Story by Keith Pierce.