HLS Selects Class Speaker

Kagan to address Law School at this year’s Class Day

Less than three months after leaving Harvard for Washington, U.S. Solicitor General and former Law School dean Elena Kagan will return to Cambridge as the Law School’s 2009 Class Day speaker.

Kagan, who served as the Law School’s dean until confirmed as a member of President Barack Obama’s administration last month, was selected by this year’s Class Marshals to address the Law School’s graduating J.D. students on June 3.

“It was an obvious choice for us,” said Class Marshal and third year Law School student Bridgette L. Hylton. “She has had such a huge impact on the Law School, and we felt it was a nice way to wrap up our time here.”

In some circles, Kagan is considered one of the most influential law school deans in recent memory.

Upon her departure for the Solicitor General’s office, Kagan left a legacy of reform, through which she spearheaded the Law School’s effort to reinvent the student experience. Compared to other top-tier schools, Harvard had sometimes been perceived as overly competitive and unwelcoming to its student body—an image Kagan worked to help the Law School shed since assuming the deanship in 2003.

As dean, the student-friendly initiatives Kagan promoted ranged from free coffee in the renovated Harkness Center to a revamp of the J.D. curriculum, which was the most significant overhaul in over 100 years.

Kagan also presided over a significant expansion of the faculty, picking up numerous illustrious scholars from rival institutions.

Among the Law School’s student body, Kagan enjoyed great popularity, and when she was passed over for the post of university president in 2007, hundreds of students wearing “I (Heart) EK” shirts celebrated the continuation of her deanship.

Hylton said many students had hoped Kagan would participate in the ceremonies, asking if she might be available to hand out diplomas to the new graduates.

The news that their former dean had been asked to participate in their commencement—albeit in an unexpected way—still generated excitement among the student body.

“It’s kind of weird, but she’s solicitor general now, so that’s a big deal,” said third-year Law School student Todd M. Blodgett, who called Kagan one of the best professors he had encountered in his time at Harvard.

And while a few students admitted they had hoped for a “celebrity” after Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was announced as the Commencement keynote speaker, others said they were happy to have Kagan give them a final send-off.

“She’s a good speaker,” said third-year Law School student Stephanie M. Early. “It’s a nice way to recognize her, and I’ll be glad to hear her speak.”

—Staff writer Athena Y. Jiang can be reached at ajiang@fas.harvard.edu.