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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Obama Named New Law Review President

Student Becomes First Black Chief Of the Publication

By Philip M. Rubin

Receiving support and praise from students and professors, Barack H. Obama was named the 104th president of the Harvard Law Review, becoming the legal journal's first Black leader.

The election, which drew national media attention, puts Obama in charge of a staff of 80 which edits and publishes articles by legal authorities eight times per year.

While many said yesterday that they believed the election was of historical significance, Obama downplayed its importance.

"It's a significant change from the Harvard Law School of the past," said Obama. "[But] for every one of me, there are a whole bunch of young Black people who, because of drugs, poverty, or whatever, aren't getting the opportunities I have," he said.

"To the degree that he's been chosen suggests that talent can be recognized regardless of race," said Randall Kennedy, professor of law. "The fact that it's a first, however, is a reflection on some very unfortunate aspects of American society."

Public Sector Work

Obama, 28, came to the Law School last year after having graduated from Columbia College and directed a Chicago counseling program for the disadvantaged for several years.

Obama said yesterday he plans to continue working in the public sector when he graduates from law school, but is unsure what form that work would take. He said he will consider anything from running for elected office to setting up community service programs.

Editors at the nation's other top law reviews said they were not sure if their publications had ever had a Black president, but Robert Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, said that the journal had a Black president in 1987.

New presidents are elected on the basis of their work for the review that year by all of the senior editors except the outgoing president, in an all-day, all-night process that most involved in yesterday's selection called grueling.

"it was a long day, but at the end people were extremely pleased with the results," said Caroline M. Brown, the former treasurer of the review.

Currently, there are 80 editors of the review, all of whom were selected on the basis of grades and the results of a writing contest. Each year roughly half of the first-year class applies for the limited number of positions on the staff.

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