Close up image of one of many law school graduates

Photo by Russell Bailey

May 06, 2024

SIU Simmons Law School commencement ceremony is May 10

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Thomas C. Britton, who has a five-decade relationship with  as a member of its first graduating class, will deliver the keynote address during commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 10.

The ceremony at 1 p.m. in Shryock Auditorium will honor 77 graduates in the Class of 2024. There is no ticketing for guests, and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Chancellor Austin A. Lane will confer degrees at the ceremony with SIU System President Dan Mahony and J. Phil Gilbert, U.S. senior district judge and SIU Board of Trustees chair, also in attendance.

“We are excited to celebrate the commencement of the Class of 2024,” Dean Camille Davidson said. “This marks an end to their time at SIU School of Law and a new beginning in their legal field of choice. This occasion also concludes our 50th anniversary celebration and begins our transition to the SIU Simmons Law School, continuing our legacy of excellence and commitment to shaping tomorrow’s leaders.”

The Class of 2024 selected Michael Keeney, who is from Oak Lawn, Illinois, to be the class speaker. Keeney has a bachelor’s degree in English education from Illinois State University. During law school, he was part of the moot court team that was a finalist at the 2024 American Bar Association National Health Law competition in Las Vegas. He ranked No. 2 oral advocate, and the team won best brief of the tournament. After graduation and taking the bar exam, Keeney plans to return to Chicago and hopes to serve as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Peter Alexander, a professor of law and former law school dean, will be the faculty speaker.

The ceremony marks the 48th anniversary of the law school’s first graduating class of 1976, three years after the law school was founded.

Britton to deliver keynote address

A member of the charter class, Britton, who lives in Makanda, pursued a lengthy career with the SIU System administration in various roles, including administrative counsel to the SIU Board of Trustees and vice chancellor for institutional advancement. He joined the law school in 1992 as associate dean and later acting dean, and taught courses in the areas of public law, including administrative law, legislative and administrative process, state and local government law, and education law. Britton was an early advocate for using distance-learning technology, teaching courses to students in both Carbondale and Springfield, who typically were part of the law school’s semester-in-practice program. After retiring, Britton continued to teach occasionally in the areas of bioethics and medical malpractice.

Ceremony to recognize Chinese human rights defender

Wang Quanzhang, a Chinese human rights lawyer imprisoned and persecuted for representing Falun Gong practitioners, will be bestowed with the school’s Rule of Law citation, a formal recognition by law school faculty of the important tradition of the legal profession that “requires lawyers to stand firm in support of liberty and justice in the face of oppression and, by their words and actions, to honor and support the Rule of Law, even at great personal risk.”

A commencement hood and scroll will be placed on an empty chair to symbolize attorneys who are suffering for their actions as legal advocates.

According to the citation, Wang was arrested in 2015, beaten and detained at the end of the Falun Gong trial and then waited three years before his own trial. He was convicted of “subverting state power” for defending the group, which is anti-communist and opposes some of the health care practices in mainstream medicine in preference to more spiritual healing practices.  He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison and since his release, chased out of 13 homes in Beijing in 2 months. Wang was disbarred as a result of his work and his conviction.