News and Information : Press Release by Santa Clara University Law School
May 24, 2003

Law school commencement speaker urges graduates to make a difference
Mary Alexander decided to join law school after personal loss

Mary Alexander, president of ATLA,
speaks to law school graduates
   SANTA CLARA, Calif., May 24, 2003 – Mary Alexander, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, today urged law graduates to begin their professional careers with a keen moral compass and commitment to protect the finest legal system in the world.

    In a commencement speech in the Mission Gardens on the Santa Clara University campus, Alexander said lawyers are uniquely able to influence and improve society, both in the courtroom and in the political process.  "I hope that some of you will choose to become trial lawyers.  We are attorneys who fight for the voiceless, the powerless, the oppressed and for the American dream of justice for all.  My experience at Santa Clara gave me the tools, the self assurance, and will to do the most satisfying work in my life,” said Alexander, a Santa Clara University School of Law alumna.

    At the ceremonies, 294 J.D. degrees and 13 L.L.M. degrees were awarded. In addition, 34 of the law graduates received certificates in public interest and social justice law, 36 received certificates in high tech law, seven in international high tech law, and 15 in international law.

    Of this year’s graduating class, 159 students were female, and 148 male.  The SCU School of Law is one of the 10 most racially and ethnically diverse in the U.S. in 2003, according to the U.S. News and World Report.

    Alexander’s decision to become a trial lawyer was the result of a personal loss. While studying for a master’s degree in public health at the University of California, Berkley, Alexander attended a lecture about the dangers of benzene and its link to leukemia. “I recalled that my husband  had worked in a civil engineering lab where he tested asphalt road samples by treating them with pure benzene, which would vaporize when heated,” she said. A few months later, her husband, was diagnosed with leukemia. “I began to wonder if his exposure to benzene had caused his disease. I wondered why the law did not protect workers and consumers from dangerous products,” she said.  A few years later those questions led Alexander to enroll at law school at Santa Clara.   “In October my first year, my husband died of leukemia, leaving me with an 8-year-old daughter and even more incentive to fight for those who are wrongfully injured,” she said.

    She pursued a wrongful death suit for her husband and was inspired by the conviction and willingness of attorneys who represented her case in the belief that other families should not have to suffer similar loss. After graduation, Alexander turned down a position with a prestigious law firm to become a plaintiff trial lawyer.

    “I wanted to represent people,” she said. “Over the past 20 years I have had the privilege of making a difference for individual people --representing orphans, widows and injured workers, consumers hurt by dangerous products and the elderly defrauded of their life savings. That is what inspires me everyday and makes me proud to be a trial lawyer.”

    At the commencement ceremonies, Alexander was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Denise Carmody, provost at Santa Clara University.

    Ceremonies for the 152nd SCU undergraduate commencement will be held June 14. The speaker will be Santa Clara University alumnus, and Arizona Governor, Janet Napolitano. The graduate school’s commencement will be held June 15, with speaker Mary Bitterman, former CEO of KQED and one of the country’s foremost broadcast executives.

About the SCU Schoolof Law

    The SCU School of Law, founded in 1912, combines a tradition of excellence with a commitment to ethics, diversity, and social justice, and is fully accredited by the American Bar Association. Many of its 968 students work in criminal and civil community law clinics, and may earn certificates in intellectual property law, international law, or public interest law. Law degrees may be combined with MBA or master’s in taxation degrees, and the law school offers lawyers master’s degrees in international law and intellectual property law.

About Santa Clara University

    Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its 8,060 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees. Distinguished nationally by the fourth-highest graduation rate among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice.