Chief Judge Mary H. Murguia Encourages UC Law SF Grads to Use Exceptional Legal Education to Break Barriers

Chief Judge Mary H. Murguia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urges graduates to use their UC Law SF education to shatter glass ceilings, make lasting change, and pave the way for others to achieve the American dream in her keynote address.


The Honorable Mary H. Murguia, who broke barriers as the first woman of color to lead a U.S. circuit court, has a message for UC Law San Francisco’s 2024 graduates: You can break barriers too.

UC Law SF graduates celebrate receiving their degrees, ready to use the legal skills and connections gained in law school to assume top positions at major law firms, Fortune 500 companies, government institutions, and more.

“As you go forward in your life, I hope that you will recognize the power within you and that you will help open the door to that American dream a little wider so that others can see their own dreams are also possible,” she told a crowd of 420 graduates during the College’s 143rd commencement ceremony at the Bill Graham Auditorium on May 13. Murguia is Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Breaking barriers is nothing new for UC Law SF grads. Since its founding in 1878, alums have used their legal backgrounds to challenge norms, make history, and forge new paths for subsequent generations. Kamala Harris ’89 is the first woman, Black American, and South Asian American to be elected vice president of the United States; Wiley W. Manuel ’53 was the first Black American to serve as an associate justice on the California Supreme Court; and Emma Ping Lum ’47 was the first Chinese American woman to practice law in California and argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In her keynote address, Murguia shared how her parents, who grew up in rural Mexico with no formal education, instilled values that allowed her to ascend to the highest level of the nation’s largest circuit court. Murguria said her parents, who raised seven children in a small house in Kansas City, Kan., encouraged them to value the power of education and the promise of the American dream.

Mikayla Domingo ’24 says she has confidence her fellow graduates will win landmark cases, earn spots on high courts and government offices, and make history fighting injustice and changing the legal field.

“Hard work, determination, faith, a good education, and humility – they helped me get to where I am today,” Murguia said. “You too will have these tools to start a new phase of your journey thanks to your legal education … You now have the power to chart your own course and write your own American story.”

Many UC Law SF graduates didn’t wait for commencement to start making an impact with their legal skills. Sixty-one graduates provided at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services during law school, 20 of whom logged 150 hours or more. All told, the graduates provided over $800,000 in free legal assistance that helped people fight evictions, seek asylum, clear criminal records, and more.

“We hope that this spirit of pro bono is a commitment all our graduates will continue to live up to throughout their professional lives,” Chancellor & Dean David Faigman said during the ceremony.

Murguia acknowledged UC Law SF’s reputation as a “role model” among higher education institutions, with its commitment to educating a diverse student body and preparing students to excel in the 21st-century legal profession.

“What this institution is doing will make our legal community and economy more diverse, and I believe our society much stronger, more resilient, and just,” Murguia said, noting that she was a first-generation college and law school student — as was about 20% of the UC Law SF Class of 2024.

Valedictorian Catherine Nasi ’24 reminds fellow graduates that by persevering through difficult challenges like law school, they unlock their true strengths, hidden talents, and untapped potential.

This year’s graduating class also includes 59 students who entered law school through UC Law SF’s Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP), which accepts and supports students from adverse backgrounds with financial assistance and academic resources. Many LEOP grads already have post-bar jobs lined up at top-tier law firms and reputable government institutions, including the San Francisco County Superior Court, U.S. District Court of Arizona, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), to name a few.

Valedictorian Catherine Nasi ’24, who focused her studies on tax law – one of 12 concentrations that JD students can specialize in at UC Law SF – reflected on how hard law school was in her speech to fellow grads. But Nasi, who plans to work in the firm Baker MacKenzie’s tax group after passing the bar, said persevering through such adversity made the class of 2024 poised to surmount even bigger hurdles in the future.

“The challenges we faced have instilled in us a sense of pride, accomplishment, and self-confidence in our abilities,” she said. “We have been empowered to overcome obstacles, achieve our goals, and make a meaningful difference in the world.

Friends and family packed the auditorium to celebrate graduates of UC Law SF’s Juris Doctor, Master of Studies in Law (MSL), Master of Science in Health Policy and Law, and Master of Laws (LLM) programs. Amid thunderous applause from supporters, each grad walked across the stage to receive their degree, a tangible representation of the countless hours of studying, hard work, and determination – and the promise of a brighter future for degree holders who now possess the knowledge and skills to reshape the legal profession.

Conferring the University of California degrees was Kelly L. Drumm ’94, deputy general counsel and chief of staff to UC’s senior vice president of legal affairs and systemwide general counsel. Drumm, who was a first-generation student, studied at UC Law SF as part of the LEOP program and was president of the Indigenous and Native American Law Students Association.

Sharing a lesson imparted by his father, Kyle Freeman ’24 urges the class of 2024 to keep the discipline they used to get through law school as they set out to achieve career goals because “you don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for.”

“When you leave here today as a graduate of UC Law SF, you join a worldwide community of alumni making our mark in nearly every field of human endeavor,” said UC Law SF Board of Directors Chair Simona Agnolucci ‘06. “You join us now as the future lawyers, legislators, mediators, judges, legal scholars, and partners in business who will go on to make a difference in this world.”

Before exiting the auditorium to celebrate their accomplishments with friends and family in the Civic Center Plaza, Professor Stefano Moscato urged the graduates to remain true to themselves and their values as they embark on exciting new journeys to advance justice and promote positive change in the fields of business, law, government, and more.

“You came to law school because you’re passionate and because you’re driven,” he said. “You survived law school because you’re a fighter and because you’re resilient. Keep that passion. Keep that fight. Keep that hunger. Go out there and use your head, use your heart, use your hands … and you’re going to make a mark on this really imperfect but wonderful profession.”