Law School Commencement Speakers

2023 Commencement Speaker
Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court of the United States

On May 21, 2023, Boston University School of Law will hold its Commencement Ceremony to commemorate the Class of 2023.

Portrait of Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson smiling in a black robe.
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Boston University School of Law is pleased to announce that Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court of the United States, will deliver the 2023 Commencement address. The ceremony will mark the conclusion of the school’s 150th anniversary year and celebrate the 150th graduating class. Jackson is the first Black woman to sit on the highest court of the land, the first former public defender, and the first since Thurgood Marshall to have represented defendants in criminal court.

Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig noted Jackson’s achievements in a letter urging the US Senate to confirm her: “With nearly ten years of service as a federal judge, experience clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and two lower-court judges, and a record of leadership on the United States Sentencing Commission, she will make an incredible Supreme Court Justice.”

Jackson’s legal career began at Harvard Law School. She was a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated in 1996. She served as a law clerk for Judge Patti B. Saris of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts in 1996, Judge Bruce M. Selya of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in 1997, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1999 term.

For the next decade, Jackson served as an assistant federal public defender in Washington, DC and worked in private practice and as an attorney at the US Sentencing Commission. From 2010 through 2014, she served as a vice chair and commissioner on the US Sentencing Commission. While there, she earned a reputation for building consensus, resulting in mostly unanimous panel decisions.

In 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Jackson to the US District Court for the District of Columbia where she served until 2021. During that time, she served on the Defender Services Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States and the Supreme Court Fellows Commission.

In April 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Jackson to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; the Senate confirmed her nomination in June 2021.

In February 2022, President Biden nominated Jackson to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate confirmed her on April 2, 2022, and she took her seat at the Supreme Court on June 30, 2022.

Jackson was born in Washington, DC in 1970, with the African name “Ketanji Onyika,” which means “Lovely One.” Her parents, Ellery and Johnny Brown, were subjected to segregated primary schools. The Browns went to historically black colleges and universities and became public school teachers. The family moved to Miami when Jackson was four, and Johnny went to University of Miami School of Law. Johnny Brown became chief attorney for the Miami-Dade County School Board. Ellery Brown became a school principal at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida.

While at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, Jackson was a national oratory champion. In 1992, she received a bachelor of arts degree in government from Harvard. In the year before her studies at Harvard Law, she was a journalist and researcher at Time magazine. Jackson met her husband Patrick Jackson, a surgeon, while at Harvard College and today they have two daughters.

LLM Student Speaker – Rachel Florence James

Rachel Florence James hails from the southern part of India, Chennai. Raised by two inspiring lawyer parents, her passion for justice and advocacy was nurtured from a young age. In 2022, she graduated with distinction with a Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of Laws from the School of Excellence in Law. She was given the ‘Best Presenter Award’ by the Department of Justice, India, for presenting a paper on commercial dispute resolution. She served as the executive editor of the Indian Student Law Journal and worked as a judicial clerk for the additional solicitor general of Madras before she came to the United States to pursue her LLM degree. This year, Rachel has been awarded the Pro Bono Honors and Public Service Award for completing the highest number of qualifying pro bono hours in the LLM program. While at BU, she interned with two Boston based nonprofit organizations and served in the special education and immigration law team. With her aspirations to practice start-up law in both India and US, Rachel is licensed to practice law in India and is working towards obtaining a licensure in the US.

JD Student Speaker – Gabriela Rosario

Gabriela Rosario earned dual degrees from Florida State University: a Bachelor of Arts in Italian and a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs. Before attending BU Law, Gabriela honed her fluency in Italian at the renowned Collegio Ghislieri in Pavia, Italy, and refined her linguistic and literary skills at the Università di Pavia. After discovering an interest and passion in abolition and transformative justice, Gabriela assisted local reentry services and community organizing efforts in Tallahassee. Subsequently, she coauthored an article in the Journal for Anthropology of North America, “The Ground on Which We Stand: Making Abolition.”

While at BU Law, Gabriela continued her commitment to community through her various leadership roles as copresident of the Latin American Law Student Association, secretary of the First Generation Professionals, assistant director of the Legal Follies (BU Law’s sketch comedy group), as well as through her positions as legal research and writing (lawyering) fellow, a BYO and JD Orientation leader, and an equity fellow for the Student Affairs Office. Her work in the Wrongful Convictions Practicum, and as law and policy intern under Professor Jasmine Gonzales Rose at BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, also furthered her mission against social inequity. Last summer, Gabriela worked as a public finance associate at Locke Lord, supporting local towns, schools, and other public or government institutions in a wide range of tax-exempt debt issues, and she looks forward to returning there in the fall.

Gabriela is a proud Puerto Rican, from Kissimmee, Florida. She is the first in her family to graduate with an advanced degree!