Victoria “Vicki” Reggie Kennedy and Massachusetts First Lady Diane Patrick were among those who praised Suffolk University Law School’s ethos of public service at an alumni weekend gala at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Kennedy acknowledged the school’s top-ranked programs, but said that Suffolk Law’s true victory comes from students who completed 8,000 hours of pro bono community service during the previous academic year.

'A good and noble profession'

Referring to John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, she said: “Suffolk Law alumni have never stopped asking what they can do for their country or their community.

“I don’t know of any place doing what you’re doing, proving every day that public service is a good and noble profession.”

Recounting the law school’s founding in 1906 by a young attorney whose law school tuition had been paid for by a more established attorney, Kennedy said that her father had entered the profession through the same type of largesse. She surmised that she never would have become an attorney herself if her father hadn’t received a helping hand when he needed it.

Growing in the law

Patrick, a partner at Ropes & Gray, drew laughs from the crowd when she told of her first legal job interview, for a summer internship at a large firm.

“I had no concept … I dressed in whatever I was wearing for school that day” -- shorts, sandals and a T-shirt” she recounted. “I looked at the other students in their suits, carrying briefcases -- with nothing in them -- and I realized it was either going to be fright or flight.”

Patrick stayed for the interview and ultimately got the internship.

She told the crowd that in the early years of her marriage to Gov. Deval Patrick, while “Deval was out fighting death penalty cases” as a young civil rights attorney, she was working as an attorney at a large firm. “I’d tell people that I was earning the money so that Deval could go out and make the world a better place.”

But over the years, as she came to realize that service work is what sustained and motivated her, she stopped apologizing and made service a focus in her life.

“I realized that any person, in any profession can choose to serve others.”

During her talk, Patrick focused on the work of three Suffolk Law students devoting themselves to public service:

•Dyana Boxley, a student working at the Victim Rights Law Center with survivors of sexual assault and rape on issues of immigration, housing, education, privacy and protection orders
•Brendan Kennedy, who spent a summer in the Navajo Nation working on veterans benefits and foreclosure cases and who is now working at the Commonwealth’s Indian Affairs Commission
•Jessica Youngsberg, president of the Humanitarian and American Red Cross Society at Suffolk Law School and a volunteer and intern at Shelter Legal Services Veterans Legal Assistance Program

Record of excellence and service

In his remarks on the law school’s recent successes, Andrew C. Meyer, Jr., chair of the Board of Trustees, referenced the school’s three Top 20 US News & World Report rankings; The National Law Journal‘s ranking of Suffolk Law among the top 20 law schools with the most associates promoted to partner; and a Lawyers Weekly report that more chairs and managing partners at the 100 largest law firms in Massachusetts graduated from Suffolk Law than from BU, Northeastern, or Harvard.

Law School Dean Camille Nelson focused on the inter-connectedness of excellence and public service.

“It is my suggestion that those who think that excellence and service are mutually exclusive are wrong, just as those who take too narrow a view of service are misguided,” she said. In all areas of our professional lives, attorney are called to work on behalf of others. As the life stories and remarks of our special guests demonstrate, excellence and service are truly mutually reinforcing aspirations.”

Alumni as models

University President James McCarthy shared a quote from JFK: “For what Pericles said to the Athenians has long been true of this commonwealth: ‘We do not imitate—for we are a model to others.’

“The same can be said of Suffolk University Law School and its alumni. You do not imitate; and you are a model, especially to our current students. You play a major role in creating Suffolk Law’s reputation for giving students the real-life skills they need to hit the ground running and have an immediate impact on whatever they do.”