Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, speaking at Sunday’s Suffolk University Law School commencement, sang the school’s praises for making an impact for the public good as “students and professors who know that law can change lives and that law can save lives.”

“You chose Suffolk for a reason. More often than not, that reason is something greater than your own ambition,” said Walsh, who said that the Law School is known for producing graduates who are ready for public service. “I’m incredibly impressed by how many of you spent your time at Suffolk not just preparing your own legal careers, but providing legal services for those who need it the most. Together, this class … performed more than twenty-three thousand hours of pro bono work.”

Walsh, who has committed his career to expanding opportunity for all, received the honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony. In thanking the Law School for the honor, the mayor said: “Usually you get a Suffolk Law degree, then you go into politics. I’m doing it completely backwards.”

Walsh is a champion for civil rights and an advocate for working people and job creation. He began his career in the building trades and led the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013. In this role he created a model program to increase workplace diversity and provide career opportunities for women and people of color. He served 16 years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Walsh was elected mayor of Boston in 2013.

He pointed to “our nation’s need for a spirit of service today, maybe more than ever,” in the face of the challenges of income inequality and the lack of access to education, health care, affordable housing, job opportunities and legal representation.

Yet too often the federal government is focused “on winning and losing, instead of serving people and solving problems” said Walsh. “We need people at every level of government and in the public sector whose skills and ambition are grounded in the notions of a higher good.”

“Public service comes in many forms,” he said. “If you give yourself to serve others, you will have an impact. You will move in the direction of your dreams. That was my experience.”

Looking back at his own path to public service, Walsh noted that, when he struggled with illness and other challenges as a child and younger adult, his family and community helped him. He had decided at age 13 that he would be mayor one day, and his path to City Hall began by getting involved in his local civic association and coaching youth sports. He learned to listen to the needs of the community as a state legislator.

Walsh recalled working with many Suffolk Law graduates over the years at the State House, City Hall, in nonprofits and in labor unions. Members of his City Hall staff are studying in Suffolk Law’s evening program.

“Wherever your degree takes you, you will play a vital role in your community, and you probably already do,” he said. “We all have dreams inside of us. The dreams you have inside of you may one day change the world.”

 

Acting President Marisa Kelly spoke to the graduates of their experiences gained “through Suffolk’s nationally ranked and highly regarded clinical programs, through pro bono work, through clerkships and through many other programs” that prepared them well for the careers ahead.

“You have been part of a law school community that understands that legal practice has evolved and will continue to do so, just as other professions do. And you are ready,” said Kelly.

 “With your outstanding Suffolk Law education and all of the skills you have learned and practiced in your time here, I am confident that you will go out into that ever-changing legal landscape prepared to serve. That includes serving your clients, serving the public, serving your communities, and serving the greater good.”

In his closing remarks, Law School Dean Andrew Perlman said that lawyers “are fundamentally in the business of protecting the rule of law, the very foundation of our democracy that makes our entire system work.

“You protect the rights of everyone; you make sure that we are a country governed by law. And this has been Suffolk Law’s mission from its very beginning – preparing outstanding client-centered lawyers who, in big ways and small, ensure that our democracy remains strong.”

The Suffolk University Law School Class of 2017 is made up of 325 new alumni who received juris doctor, master of laws or doctor of juridical science degrees. The Law School ceremony was one of three Suffolk commencements held on Sunday, May 21, at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on the Boston waterfront.

The University conveyed a total of 2,029 undergraduate and advanced degrees during weekend ceremonies.