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"Be Problem Solvers," Speakers Urge VLS Graduates

May 22, 2012

Vermont Law School's newest alumni should dedicate themselves to being problem solvers who serve the public good in a rapidly changing world, two prominent speakers told members of the class of 2012 during VLS's 37th commencement weekend.Image of commencement

"Challenge laws and conventions that are outmoded, seek out the blank spots, be creative in your problem solving efforts," Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber said during his keynote speech at commencement on Saturday.

More than 600 students received Juris Doctor or master's degrees during the ceremony on the South Royalton town green.

Mark Tercek, the president and chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy, offered similar advice during his talk the day before commencement about new strategies in conservation and ways that VLS graduates can play a role in protecting the environment and the human race. Tercek reviewed the state of conservation broadly, saying many parts of the global ecosystem were declining despite decades of effort to reduce pollution, wildlife and habitat destruction and climate change. "The environmental movement needs new people, new ideas and new energy," he said. "We need to think differently, bold and big." View the lecture (YouTube).

Conservation efforts have been hurt by a public perception that protecting nature is elitist rather than critical to humans' well being and economic growth, Tercek said. "Nature is valuable, not just wonderful."Image of commencement

He discussed the Conservancy's new approaches, including preserving the headwaters and watershed of rivers that supply drinking water in Latin America rather than building expensive water filtration plants downstream. Other projects include persuading Iowans to allow their floodplains to absorb floodwaters rather than relying on levees that actually worsen flooding; the Conservancy's partnerships with Dow Chemical, Coca-Cola and other companies to promote cooperation between scientists, engineers and other key players; and a Conservancy internship program that recruits young, urban, lower-income minorities into conservation careers.

At commencement, Reiber got a chuckle from the crowd when he started by saying: "Next to swearing in new lawyers, this is my new favorite thing to do." But he also spoke about the tough job market that awaits new lawyers, saying failure and adversity were valuable to any successful career and that the key was to persevere. He said the justice system needs more lawyers to represent people who can't afford representation, especially in family court. He urged the graduates to use "practical wisdom and good judgment" whether they practice law or work in other fields.Image of Jeff Shields

Jeff Shields, who will retire July 31 after eight years as VLS's dean and president, was recognized for his leadership and community building. During his tenure, VLS launched the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, the Institute for Energy and the Environment, the Distance Learning program and other initiatives; strengthened the faculty by hiring nationally prominent teachers and lawyers; renovated Debevoise Hall, created the Center for Legal Services and completed other building and infrastructure projects; expanded the Career Services and Institutional Advancement offices, dual degrees program, clinical and experiental program and other programs; raised an average of $4 million a year; and undertook other initiatives that strengthened the school.

Alice Ranson '12 received the Learned Hand Award for academic excellence, Erin Wyatt '12 received the Alumni Association Award for contribution to the school and Jess Wilkerson '12 received the Maximilian W. Kempner Award for exhibiting civility, integrity and other attributes of VLS's fifth dean.

Honorary degrees were awarded to Reiber, Tercek and Edwin Colodny, a former VLS trustee, former president and CEO of US Airways, former interim president of the University of Vermont and former interim CEO of Fletcher Allen Health Care.


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