Published on May 7, 2021 by Morgan Black
In a socially distanced commencement ceremony honoring Samford University Cumberland School of Law’s class of 2021, a beloved member of the Cumberland family addressed the graduates. Cassandra Adams, former assistant dean and now dean of students for Wake Forest University School of Law, returned to Samford’s campus to speak to the class on their special day. Her speech titled “The Other Side of Hope” provided moving moments for the class.
Prior to the address, Chandler Boling, president of the Christian Legal Society, gave a touching opening invocation followed by a stunning performance by Samford’s A Cappella Choir. University President Andrew Westmoreland provided remarks while welcoming guests viewing by livestream and present at the ceremony including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, whom he called a “friend of Samford,” a member of Cumberland School of Law’s class of 2007.
Dean Corky Strickland proceeded to introduce Adams, mentioning that perhaps her greatest service was that of “mentor” to hundreds of law students during her tenure at Cumberland School of Law.
Adams began, “On Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, your 1L Service Day, I started this journey with you. To stand before you today, as you are leaving Samford, clothed in Juris Doctor regalia, I am filled with pride and joy as we take this momentous opportunity to recognize and celebrate each of you.”
As she continued, Adams noted that since their first-year service day, the group’s law school experience has been rooted in unprecedented happenings, most specifically completing their studies during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“Between August 2018 and today, our world has flipped over itself – several times,” she said. “Yet, each of you have endured the turbulence and have come out on the other side. Then I questioned, ‘they came out on the other side of what?’ You came out on the other side of hope.”
She went on to add hurdles they, and the faculty and staff faced, during the pandemic while switching all of their classes to virtual platforms. In addition, Adams addressed the recent racial and social unrest in the country.
“You entered into heartbreaking and gut-wrenching conversations with family, friends, classmates, faculty, and others, about the existence and perpetuation of systemic racism,” she said. “Some of you listened with hearts anxious to bring about quick solutions; others were burdened to explain, once again, the truth of the racism that they experience on a daily basis. You looked in the mirror to identify, understand and accept the various privileges that you possess, and committed to using your power to build a better community for all. Yet, despite all the unrest, each of you made it to the other side of hope.”
As she progressed, Adams shared what happens on the journey from hope to the “other side.”
She said, “Your perseverance is unearthed; your persistence is awakened; your understanding evolves; your commitment is challenged. In short, you grow for the better. When you are in the state of ‘hope’ you will experience some confusion, some discouragement, some fatigue. But then you start feeling a difference within yourself. You develop a sense of clarity, confidence, and courage. Your mental, emotional and physical fatigue is replaced with new energy that propels you to the other side of hope! My friends, today you have arrived at your other side of hope. You are victorious in your journey and can stand trusting, appreciating, and supporting each other because you have faced down unprecedented obstacles and have earned your law degree!”
She then asked the graduates to stand to shine their flashlights they had been given in advance of the event and closed her remarks to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles.
She said, with their lights shining, “Today, we honor and salute you, for you have journeyed beyond hope. Because of your success, you have awakened in many a new joy…a new energy…a new hope. You all are the light that will illuminate the path to a future filled with true justice, acceptance, understanding, and embracing of each other in the divinely intended way…Dr. Hardin [referencing Samford Provost J. Michael Hardin], I now tender to you, 131 beams of light, fresh from the other side of hope! The sun has arrived—the class of 2021!”
After the address, the names of each graduate were read by Dean Corky Strickland, and the degrees were conferred by Samford President Andrew Westmoreland and Provost Hardin. Of the class of 2021, 121 new Juris Doctors and eight graduates of Cumberland School of Law’s master’s degree programs joined the Cumberland alumni family. In addition, 11 Juris Doctors who received their degrees in December were recognized.
As is custom at the commencement ceremony, Dean Corky Strickland then acknowledged retiring faculty members Mark Baggett and Howard Walthall.
Also following custom, Strickland presented the Daniel Austin Brewer Professionalism Award to third-year class president Courtney Howard. This award recognizes a graduating student who best exemplifies the high standards of ethics and professionalism expected of members of the legal profession. Howard was moved as she approached the podium to provide her remarks to the class.
In summary she said, “We are really here, sitting in one of the greatest moments we’ve worked so hard to achieve…we’ve all answered the call to become Cumberland lawyers…We’ve answered the call to add value to our communities…I ask that you never forget the reason why you answered the call.” Howard’s journey to and through law school is featured in this recent story titled “’Times Get Tough, I Get Tougher’: One Graduate’s Motto Aids Her Through Life and Law School.”
Following the ceremony, a reception was held for the graduates and their guests on Brewer Plaza adjacent to Memory Leake Robinson Hall.
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.