Nancy Gertner Gives Commencement Speech at Wheaton College

For full video of speech:


Doctor of Laws

The verdict is in. You, Nancy Gertner, have led the way in your legal career, speaking out for the powerless, and blazing a trail for women in law.

Growing up in Flushing, New York, you engaged in spirited debates with your father, who finally gave in and said: “Go be a lawyer.”

And you did. You graduated from Barnard College and Yale Law School and then embarked on a 22-year career as a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer in Boston. A self-described “unrepentant advocate,” you stood up in court for the rights of women, gay people, and racial minorities. You were known for your passion for justice, your brilliant arguments, and your bright red suits.

In 1994, you swapped your red suits for a judge’s robes. As a federal judge for the district of Massachusetts, you carried out a fearless pursuit of justice. Your many ground-breaking decisions included the first ruling against racial profiling by the police and one that eliminated discriminatory methods of selecting jurors.

One colleague described you as “one of the most courageous judges in America.” Your numerous awards attest to that, including the American Bar Association’s prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award, which recognized your contributions to the advancement of civil rights and civil liberties.

Now retired from the bench, you are a professor of practice at Harvard Law School, where you pass on the exceptional expertise that has informed your legal career and your work as a scholar, teacher and international lecturer.

Nancy Gertner, it is with deep admiration that we present you with this honorary degree Doctor of Laws.