A student waves to family members during the School of Law Commencement ceremony May 13, 2017 at the Minneapolis Hilton.

St. Thomas Law School Class of 2017 Recognized at May 13 Commencement

The University of St. Thomas School of Law conferred degrees to 153 students on May 13, 2017. Among them were 124 students earning their J.D. – several of whom earned a joint degree in organizational ethics and compliance, business, social work, or public policy and leadership – 19 earning an LL.M. in U.S. law, and 10 earning a master’s or LL.M. degree in organizational ethics and compliance.

“You’ve come from all over the country and all over the world to contribute to a distinctive law school community that educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good,” St. Thomas law school Dean Robert Vischer said in his welcoming remarks before listing off a remarkable set of the students’ accomplishments. “Each one of these graduates has contributed in unique ways to our law school community and richly deserves our congratulations.”

Professor Rene Bowser was elected professor of the year by the Class of 2017 and hooded the graduates. St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan conferred the degrees.


As a whole, the J.D. class performed over 11,300 hours of public service work over the course of their legal education. St. Thomas Law requires each student to perform a minimum of 50 hours of community service on the belief that all lawyers have an obligation to share the gifts with which they have been blessed. Thirty members of the class gave more than 100 hours.

Three members of the Class of 2017 were recognized with Mission Awards during their time at the law school. They are Joshua Damberg, for service and community, and Aaron Brown and Marcy Kreimier, for living the mission.

The class also achieved nearly 90 percent participation in the class gift. The gift is a stone engraved with university namesake Thomas Aquinas and placed next to the flagpole outside the front entrance to the law school.


3M Senior Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Ivan Fong was invited to give the keynote address. Fong, who previously served as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, encouraged the graduates to be adaptable, to pursue their vocation and to stand for something.

“Discernment requires an awareness of what the world urgently needs you to do, today,” Fong said. “It may or may not come to you like a bolt of lightning. It will certainly require introspection and reflection. But do it. And then take that leap of faith to act upon that urgent need.”

Later, he continued: “Not all of you will argue and win the next landmark civil rights case. But each of you can ensure that your reputation for integrity and ethical behavior becomes a part of the fabric and culture of the larger organization of which you're a part. You will be tested, as I have, on your willingness and ability to do the right thing. But your credibility, and your personal and professional reputation for integrity and independence, are simply too important to sacrifice for narrow, short-term interests.”


The student speaker was Maria Pitner, a native of Minot, ND, whose message centered on the importance of gratitude, kindness and authenticity.

“Today, we celebrate our achievement, our hard work and personal accomplishments,” Pitner said. “While we do all of that, we must also acknowledge that we are greatly privileged people. We are privileged by intellect, education, opportunity and so much more. The cost of that privilege is duty. It is my belief that God expects, as we all shape our careers, that we serve the needs and help alleviate the troubles of those upon whom fortune has not smiled as brightly.”

Later, she continued: “I urge each of us to understand who we are, what brings us joy and what gives our lives meaning, and strive tirelessly in pursuit of it. Because if we live authentic lives, where we find our calling by utilizing our God-given talents and abilities, we won’t feel the need to weigh our success against others, making it easier for us to put away our pride. St. Thomas didn’t just teach us the law; it taught us that the strength of our character, being the person we are authentically called to be, is far more important than any of the awards or accomplishments we will ever receive in life.”