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Willamette Law Keynote Speaker, Faculty Member of the Year, and Class of 2021 Valedictorian named

by Sarah Bello,

Dean Jeff Dobbins, Spencer Prosen, Justice Adrienne C. Nelson

Willamette Law will welcome Justice Adrienne C. Nelson as the keynote speaker for the College of Law’s 135th Commencement. The ceremony will also honor two members of the law community, including announcing Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Dobbins as the Law Faculty Member of the Year, and graduate Spencer Prosen JD’21 as the Class of 2021 valedictorian.

Keynote Speaker Justice Adrienne C. Nelson

The remote portion of the College of Law’s commencement ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 16, at 11:30 a.m. The keynote speaker for the College of Law will be Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne C. Nelson.

Justice Nelson is the first African-American to sit on the state’s highest court and on any Oregon appellate state court. She previously served as a trial judge for the Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland. She is involved in many national, state, local and specialty bar associations, often serving in a leadership capacity. She is the current Chair of the Oregon Supreme Court Council on Inclusion and Fairness, the American Bar Association Diversity and Inclusion Center and the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council. In the community, she sits on the Oregon Historical Society Board of Trustees, the Literary Arts Board of Trustees and the Oregon Community Foundation Portland Leadership Council chairing the connection to the Black Communities committee. She sits on the Girl Scouts Beyond the Bars Advisory Board, which she formerly chaired.

She earned her law degree from the University of Texas at Austin and her bachelor’s degree in English and criminal justice from the University of Arkansas. Over the years, she has been active in the legal community and the greater Oregon community, frequently speaking on several topics including diversity, inclusion, equity, leadership and professional development. She was a featured speaker on TEDxTalks for her presentation, “Bridging Justice,” which discussed her personal journey alongside her philosophy on the importance of building human connections that give rise to compassion and understanding.

Justice Nelson has served as a mentor to many, and her service and mentorship to others has been widely recognized by professional organizations and the community. She is a connector and encourager, helping people succeed by living their best lives. Justice Nelson's commencement address will focus on encouraging graduates to become leaders in challenging times.

Associate Dean Jeffrey Dobbins

Dobbins will finish his first year as associate dean this summer. A member of the faculty since 2006, he teaches Civil Procedure, Federal Courts, Administrative Law, Native American Law, and seminars in specialized areas of the appellate process.

With his appointment as associate dean, he spent more time this year learning how the program of law is implemented at Willamette, determining course offerings and budget, and communicating academic regulations.

As voted on by the graduating class, the Law Faculty Member of the Year Award is new this spring and is given to the faculty member whose teaching has had a significant impact on the class.

“The College of Law is so fortunate to have Dean Dobbins as a leader, teacher and innovator,” says Dean and Professor Brian Gallini. “Dean Dobbins is an extraordinary classroom teacher and mentor who puts his students at the center of everything he does.”

Gallini especially emphasized Dobbins’ work in adjusting courses and budget to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor Karen Sandrik works closely with Dobbins on administrative matters.

“Dean Dobbins is what you want in the front of the classroom,” Sandrik says. “He is passionate and thoughtful about the law, and he challenges and motivates his students to mirror that passion and thoughtfulness in their own studies.”

Other university-wide awards given annually to Willamette Law faculty include the Robert L. Misner Award for Law Faculty Scholarship and the Jerry E. Hudson Award for Excellence in Teaching. Dobbins received the Hudson Award in 2016 and was praised as a “consistently outstanding teacher” by Dean Emeritus Curtis Bridgeman.

Aristeion Symeon Symeonides award goes to Spencer Prosen JD’21

Dean Melodye Mac Alpine was not surprised when, after final grades were calculated, Spencer Prosen JD’21 was chosen as this year’s valedictorian. Prosen is an engaged student who consistently performed at a high level in all classes, she says.

“As a student, Spencer not only held the top grades, but was also an exemplary member of our Willamette Law community. I am thrilled for him to receive this honor.”

As valedictorian, Prosen will receive the Aristeion Symeon Symeonides award for having earned the highest grades in his class. Established in 2010, this award is given every year at Commencement to the student with the highest GPA in the College of Law graduating class. The award is also accompanied by a commemorative plaque and a medallion to be worn at Commencement. This award was named for and funded by the 19th dean of the College of Law, Symeon C. Symeonides.

Prosen will be working at Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C. in the litigation practice area and hopes to do some public defense work on the side. His office will be in Spearfish, South Dakota, and he plans to sit for the South Dakota bar.

The ceremony will be broadcast live at 11:25 a.m. April 16.

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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