Cardozo Law Celebrates 36th Commencement
Speaking at Cardozo School of Law's 36th commencement ceremony, Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, told graduates to reflect on what they bring to the law. “The law can have great force, but in order to truly form a more perfect union, it needs an assist from human beings who think and feel beyond it,” he said. Referring to the ceremony’s setting at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Bharara said, “In the coming years as you master the form and perfect your craft, don’t just use your head. Use your heart. Don’t just play the notes. Make music.”
The class of 2014 celebrated their commencement on May 27. In his remarks, Dean Matthew Diller urged the 463 J.D. and LL.M. graduates to be agents of change, and to make their mark in the legal profession.
"Think back to those first days of law school for a moment and the work you poured into your studies," Dean Diller said. "If only you could see a video of yourselves from your elements class, sorting through your first cases. You would not believe how much you have changed...I want to assure you—you really are ready for the road ahead, and I’m confident you will have much to celebrate in years to come."
Following Dean Diller’s speech, Bhrarara took the stage. Bharara has successfully handled some of the most important cases in the nation, overseeing the investigation and litigation of all criminal and civil cases brought on behalf of the United States in the Southern District of New York. Among his many prominent cases, Bhrarara successfully prosecuted and obtained a life sentence for Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber and secured the guilty plea of Peter Madoff for his role in brother Bernard’s Ponzi scheme. He is celebrated for applying renewed focus on large-scale, sophisticated financial frauds, cybercrime, corruption in city and state government, and insider trading schemes.
Bharara told a poignant story about a legal case, to illustrate what he described as the most "uplifting a crime story as I have ever heard."
He told of avowed white supremacist Mark Anthony Stroman, who was living in Texas on September 11, 2001. After the terror attacks, Stroman went on a hate crime spree—killing 46-year-old Waqar Hasan, an immigrant from Pakistan, at a Dallas convenience store and Vasudev Patel, an immigrant from India, at another store. He was apprehended and tried for the murder of Patel. But he had also attempted the murder of Rais Bhuyan, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh at a Texaco mini-mart. Bhuyan survived, but suffered years of physical pain. But then an unlikely thing happened.
"Bhuiyan thought about the man who had done this to him and who was now sitting on death row in Texas," Bharara said. "He thought about the two women who had lost their husbands, and he thought about their children and all the suffering this hateful man had caused. And then he did something that I think most people, myself included, could never do. He forgave his would-be killer. And he did more than that. In 2010, Bhuiyan began a campaign to spare Stroman from the death penalty. And as Rais Bhuiyan elevated himself from victim to advocate, he was not the only one transformed. For you see, the man who had tried to kill him and who now sat on death row had learned of Bhuiyan’s efforts on his behalf. Stroman was asked by a reporter, in the days before he was scheduled to be executed: 'What are you thinking now?' And Stroman said this: 'I can tell you what I’m feeling today, and that’s very grateful for Rais Bhuiyan’s efforts to save my life after I tried to end his.'"
Bharara went on. "Speaking as a prosecutor, from what I can tell, justice was done in this case. A jury deliberated, the law was followed, and ultimate punishment was imposed as prescribed by law. But speaking as an American and a human being, it seems to me that there is a larger lesson here. While we can respect the methodical and grinding machinery of the law in this case, we can marvel even more at how a victim of hatred grew to be a teacher of tolerance and transformed his own would-be killer in the process. I hope that you keep your hearts open to ideas and feelings that stretch beyond the law.”
Following Bharara's speech, James C. Ng, the chosen student speaker, took the stage, and generated much applause and laughter from his fellow students. Vice Dean Edward Stein led the awards and honors ceremony, and Yeshiva University President Richard Joel conferred the Master of Laws (LL.M.) and Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees. Dean Diller presented the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Award for Extraordinary Leadership to Vice Dean Stein for his five years of service as Vice Dean.
Congratulations to the class of 2014!