Published on May 10, 2019 by Morgan Black  
JudgeNewsom Commencement 2019 small

Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law held its spring 2019 commencement ceremony May 10 in the Leslie Stephen Wright Fine Arts Center. The ceremony was one of seven this spring being held by Samford.

Cumberland conferred Juris Doctor degrees to 128 candidates at the springtime event, seven of whom earned a joint degree. Five received the Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration degree and one received the Juris Doctor/Master of Science in environmental management. Additionally, Trevor Grantham from Dothan, Alabama became the first graduate to receive the joint Doctor of Pharmacy/Master of Science in health law and policy during the College of Health Sciences’ ceremony on May 3.

LaJuana Davis, law professor and director of assessment, led the processional as the mace bearer and Alyssa DiRusso, Whelan W. and Rosalie T. Palmer professor of law, provided the invocation followed by a hymn and a welcome from Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland.

Westmoreland said, “We welcome the members of the class of 2019 as they join this remarkable heritage. We know that when this ceremony ends, a new covenant will begin between you and Samford as this will be your law school alma mater for all time to come.”

Dean Henry C. Strickland then introduced the keynote speaker, Judge Kevin C. Newsom ’94, a Harvard Law School graduate, Cumberland adjunct professor and circuit judge for the eleventh circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.

“To say that I am pleased and honored to be here would be a colossal understatement,” Newsom began. “And I’ll have to say, being here feels right. I’m not just a judge; I am a Birmingham native—indeed, a Homewood native—a Samford graduate, and Cumberland professor. So, in a manner of speaking, I’m home.” 

Newsom continued to warn the graduates that his speech wasn’t going to be the typical commencement address.

“In my experience, the typical graduation speech is full of rah-rah rhetoric about you—the graduates, righting wrongs, changing the world and finding fulfillment. Naturally, I hope you’ll do all of those things. But I have a different message today, one that I feel reasonably well qualified to deliver. Upon graduation, and passage of a pesky little exam in July [referencing state bar exams], you will be entering a profession populated, and presided over, by judges. I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to the art and science of judging, and I’d like to talk to you this evening about what you ought to expect from your judges.”

Newsom referenced three cardinal virtues of good judging: objectivity, humility and civility.

He noted that objectivity has two related, but distinct, aspects: objectivity as evenhandedness and objectivity that denotes and entails truth. In addition to objectivity, he stated that humility has, at least, two incarnations: individual and systemic.

“I’d like to talk about humility as it pertains both to the good judge’s appraisal of his own ability and certitude, and the good judge’s sense of his own place.”

Newsom then briefly touched on the third virtue of good judging: civility. He called civility “less jurisprudential than the first two, but a necessary complement to them.” 

“By virtue of their status, judges have a heightened ‘be nice’ obligation. Not only toward one another, but also toward the lawyers and parties who appear before them, and perhaps most importantly, toward what I’ll call ‘ordinary citizens,’” he stated.

Newsom closed, “At the very least, you have a right to expect judges who value objectivity, in both the evenhandedness sense and the as-things-actually-are sense; humility, both personally and systemically; and civility, as evidenced by the way they treat those around them, including you. I hope and pray that those expectations will be met more often than they are disappointed.”

Then, the presentation and conferring of degrees was provided by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs J. Michael Hardin and Westmoreland, respectively. Professors T. Brad Bishop and Jill Elyssa Evans, and adjunct professor Terrence W. McCarthy assisted in the hooding of the graduates.

Dean Henry C. Strickland then made the presentation of the Daniel Austin Brewer Professionalism Award to graduate Isabel Montoya-Minisee. This award was endowed by Governor Albert P. Brewer, a former distinguished professor of law and government and professor emeritus at Cumberland, in honor of his father. Each year, the award is granted to a graduating Cumberland student who best exemplifies the high standards of ethics and professionalism expected of members of the legal profession. While a student at Cumberland, Montoya-Minisee was a member of the Richard “Red” Jones National Moot Court Team, the Hispanic Interest Law Students’ Association and the Trial Advocacy Board. She was an associate justice for the Henry Upson Sims Moot Court Board, a semi-finalist in the Gordon T. Saad Moot Court Competition, and was included on the dean’s list for five semesters. Most impressively, Montoya-Minisee completed her law studies while commuting to and from Huntsville, Alabama where she and her husband and six children live.

Following the award presentation, senior class president Averie Armstead from Birmingham, provided farewell remarks.

“Congratulations, Cumberland School of Law class of 2019. We did it,” she began. “Thank you for electing me to serve as your class president. It has truly been an honor that I will cherish for a lifetime.”

Armstead reminisced on the memories, experiences and accomplishments of Cumberland’s class of 2019 and provided what she called their last senior snapshot.

“Remember that this is an opportunity for us to grow and be advocates for others, each other, and ourselves. Keep the humility of our first year, the work ethic of our second year, and the endurance of our third year. May we continue to be accountable to each other, as active alumni and a true ‘Cumberland community.’ What connects us is our ability to communicate, the unity that threads us together, and the diversity we’ve learned to appreciate - regardless of race, gender, orientation or politics. We must take care of ourselves. We are Rascals and we are resilient, but we are not immortal. Take care of your physical & mental health, and be compassionate and patient with yourself as we grow into our new profession. Even the counselor needs a counselor.” 

“This is only the beginning,” Armstead closed. “Family and friends: remember us as we prepare to take the bar exam. We have even more barriers to break over the next few months. We are smart. We are kind. We are important. But most of all, we are special. May we never take being special for granted.”

To close, law reference librarian Leigh Jones provided the benediction.

Prior to the ceremony, Cumberland held a reception for the graduates and their families inside 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. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 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.