Law school celebrates 40th anniversary with convocation and rededication

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Aug 29, 2013

Dean Avi Soifer (top of stairs) and members of the Law School's inaugural class.
Dean Avi Soifer (top of stairs) and members of the Law School's inaugural class.
Chanters Keani Rawlins-Fernandez '15 and Matthew Ka'aihui '15 .
Chanters Keani Rawlins-Fernandez '15 and Matthew Ka'aihui '15 .

With chants, smiles, applause – and even some laughs – the William S. Richardson School of Law on the UH Mānoa campus launched its 40th anniversary year this week with a Convocation and Rededication Ceremony that reflected on the past but also looked toward a remarkable future.

As faculty, staff, students and graduates gathered at noon Monday, special guests included a dozen members of the inaugural class who took their places four decades ago in makeshift quarters in the UH Quarry to begin what one of them called “a social experiment.”

Allen Hoe ’76, from that first class, equated the establishment of the University of Hawai‘i Law School to images from the Kumulipo – the ancient ‘oli of creation – that speaks of a coming from darkness into light and enlightenment.

Many of those who supported creation of a Law School, said Hoe, were veterans of Hawai‘i’s famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team who were “inspired to create a legacy of public service.”

“Diversity defined us,” Hoe recalled. “We came from every walk of life – there were veterans, hippies, SDS radicals . . . and one-third were women. All we wanted was a chance to learn the law at home, with our families.”

Law Dean Avi Soifer, in his 11th year at Richardson, noted that the dream of the Law School has always culminated in three key points:

  • CJ Richardson’s vision of offering opportunity to all of Hawai‘i’s people.
  • The school’s celebration of diversity by bringing together students and faculty, reflecting races and cultures from around the globe.
  • And its commitment to producing leaders, both for Hawai‘i and the world.

“We trust we will continue to do this,” said Soifer. “We have a bright future ahead. We have built a remarkable institution  – more than an institution, in fact, an ‘ʻohana – that is incredibly important throughout the world.”

Law School Professor Mari J. Matsuda ’80 reflected on the extraordinary impact of the school’s first class, noting that it had immediately “taken Hawai‘i by storm,” as members played a pivotal role in rewriting the state Constitution through participation in the 1978 Constitutional Convention, clerked for judges, and worked in the state Legislature, among other accomplishments.

As a member of the fifth graduating class, Matsuda remembers looking at that stellar record and thinking “it’s going to be OK.” At the time, she noted, the Law School was still unaccredited, still struggling for its existence, and it was “scary” for students to apply.

Not anymore. “I tell each entering class that I can predict that some of you will be judges, legislators, or sit on boards of major corporations . . . or be litigators. And that is just the least of what our graduates will do. They will continue in so many ways to contribute to the public good – and to make a better Hawai’i.”

Those predictions, said Matsuda, come true simply based on the arc of what the first class accomplished.

“As a faculty member and alumna, I get to say, ‘Wow, look what our students are doing.’”

In wrapping up the convocation, William K. Richardson, son of the Law School’s namesake, spoke about how his father and Governor John A. Burns, who appointed his dad to the Supreme Court, spoke of pushing toward their “personal goals” of creating both a law and a medical school for the state.

“It was a very risky endeavor,” Richardson noted, also pointing out that it was the opportunity to provide Hawai‘i’s citizens with new alternatives, and the state with new mandates, to build a more just and equal society.

“Dad wasn’t a complainer,” added Richardson, “but he talked to us kids about how society was unfair. He grew up in a very different Hawai‘i when many people felt helpless to change their community.”

Looking around the auditorium at the faces of dozens of Richardson graduates who today occupy positions of prominence in government, the Judiciary, academia, and in the private and business sector, Richardson nodded with satisfaction.

“It’s good to see you today,” he said.

Caption for photo #1: Law School Dean Avi Soifer stands with members of the Law School's inaugural class who began classes in 1973.  From the bottom left of the stairs, clockwise, are Hayden Burgess, Professor Melody MacKenzie, Catherine Chang, John Cater, Dean Avi Soifer, Allen Hoe, Stanford Manuia, and Marjorie Higa Manuia.
Caption for photo #2: Keani Rawlins-Fernandez '15 and Matthew Ka'aihui '15 chant the "Oli Aloha No William Shaw Richardson" to open the Convocation.

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