Dean Welcomes Class of 2020

Risa Goluboff (she/her/hers)
Dean of the Law School

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A year ago, I welcomed my first UVa Law class as dean of this law school. I spoke to them at orientation, I met with them in their small groups, and I had the pleasure of getting to know many of them individually over the course of the year. 

In many ways, I identified with them. For although I had been at UVa for 14 years already, last year, I knew, would be transformative for me. As a new dean, I would have the opportunity to meet new people, master new skills, embrace all kinds of new challenges.

So it was with real delight that I watched the Class of 2019 go through a similar transformation. I rooted for them through it all. I was thrilled that so many came up to me after their last exams to say, with appropriate pride, that they now saw how far they had traveled, that they felt like different people from when they had arrived. I knew that they would be transformed, as that is what law school does. It transforms how we think and what we can do in the world. 

As I welcome you to the Law School and you begin your own journeys, I do so from a slightly different vantage point. I can tell you now not only because your predecessors told me, but also because I witnessed it myself, that you can and will succeed in the first year of your law school adventure. You will come out the other side the same person that brought you to law school—whether it was a desire to change the world or do world-changing deals—but also a different person. You will have new skills, new ways of thinking, and new intellectual resources at your disposal.

Your first year of law school will be different from that of your predecessors, however. You are now residents of a city that has experienced immense trauma in recent weeks, and you begin your law school career at a time unlike any other. For the heaviness that carries with it, I am deeply sorry. We grieve the loss of life, and we mourn the vulnerability and alienation that so many of us continue to feel. I am confident that in time and with the support of our community, these feelings will give way to a renewed sense of security and belonging. 

My hope is that you have already witnessed that this town, this University, and this country are not defined by what happened a week ago. And I believe that you will see the profound contrast between those who marched last weekend, driven by hate, violence, anger and exclusion, and the members of this community, driven by equity, diversity, respect and love. In the week since you arrived, I hope you’ve already seen these values at play. I hope you also see the role you, individually and as a class, will play in nurturing them. You have inherited a wonderful community. It is now yours to shape, to maintain, and to deepen. 

Doing so will require deep engagement with this community and with the life of the law. I am sure you have heard that the first year of law school can be challenging. That is not because anyone has set out to make it challenging. Rather, it is because you are learning new approaches to information and to life that are just that: new. They take rigor and application to comprehend, and you will want to apply yourself with zeal as you learn them. When I was a 1L, I recall my own realization of what it would require to complete law school, the endurance it would take to master this new vocabulary and set of skills. Over time, I learned that “thinking like a lawyer”—the analytical reasoning, the precision with words and concepts—was not something that was just going to happen to me. It was something that I would participate in, embrace, and do in my own brain. I could not simply sit back and expect to become a part of the “learned profession” that is the law. I had to make myself a real partner in the endeavor. I encourage you to take ownership of the education that lies before you, and collaborate with the professors and peers that surround you. 

That does not mean, however, that studying is all you will do this year.  As I hope the admissions process has already made clear, a core value of this institution is a commitment not only to your career success, but to your thriving as a whole person. As much as you learn in the classroom, you will learn as well from your fellow students. The honest and respectful exchange of ideas both in and out of the formal curriculum is a key part of what we do here. Your fellow students will become colleagues, friends, future networks, and deeply important intellectual and professional influences on you.

I am so excited to watch you learn, grow, and transform this year. There is no better place to become a lawyer than UVa Law. Welcome, let’s get to work, and enjoy.