Say the word: Celebrating Utah Law convocation with a linguistic tradition

May 06, 2024 | Alumni

by Angela Turnbow

Word cloud with black words that include "premier," "intriguing," "timely," "endurance," "profound," irrepressible," "pivotal," "confluent," and "intrepid," with the words "crucial" and "springboard" bold and in redGraduation is around the corner for the class of 2024! The S.J. Quinney College of Law will hold its convocation ceremony on Friday, May 10, at 9:30 a.m. in Kingsbury Hall to celebrate the accomplishments of graduates in the MLS, LLM, and JD degree programs.

It’s a time for graduates to reflect on their first day embarking on their law school experience—and it’s also a time to recall the class word that Reyes Aguilar, associate dean for admissions and financial affairs, bestows upon the incoming class at orientation to describe the unique energy the students bring to the College of Law community.

Word to the wise

“As the class word has become more widely known and anticipated, it is something more students look forward to and share as part of their first day in law school,” Aguilar explains. “Somewhat ironically, I think the word has a more unifying effect and comes to carry more meaning at graduation as opposed to orientation as the students reflect on their experiences.”

For several years now, the College of Law dean has also mentioned the class word in their convocation speech. In fact, Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner has been clever enough to pair the class word with a song and sing the phrase mentioning it.

“I started the pairing of a song and the word the year the graduating class’s word was imagine. John Legend’s song ‘Imagine’ seemed perfect to include in a convocation speech. I wanted to do something to make convocation special and memorable for our students. They have worked so hard to get to this moment, and they deserve the best we can give,” Kronk Warner says. “I find it helpful to reflect on the word Dean Aguilar bestowed on them at the start of their time at the College of Law to show how they truly fulfilled the vision of the word. It is a great opportunity to reflect on all the class has accomplished.”

A man of his word

Dean Reyes Aguilar, a middle-aged Hispanic man with grey hair and a grey goateeAguilar introduced this tradition in fall 2000 for the class of 2003 in recognition of the new millennium and thought it would be a fun twist in his class profile speech. However, as noted, this tradition has come to mean so much more than a way to spice up a speech.

“Now it is the tradition that people know about and anticipate. We have had a generation of alumni who had young children while in law school, and now some of those children are enrolling in the law school,” Aguilar says. “They are excited to have something to share and compare with their parents. The same holds true for other family and friends who attended the law school. It is fun to overhear conversations where an alum asks a new student: ‘So what’s your class word?’”

For the JD class of 2024, the class word is crucial and defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as an adjective: “a. Extremely significant or important. b. Vital to the resolution of a crisis or the determination of an outcome.”

“I selected crucial in fall 2021 for our new JD students because the era in which the students are/were engaging in their legal education is uniquely challenging and a pivotal point in our national and global history (e.g., Jan. 6 insurrection, impeachment trial and hearings, George Floyd murder trial, lead up to Ukraine war),” Aguilar explains. “This generation of lawyers will be called upon to play a crucial role in addressing and resolving these issues and their repercussions.”

Hopefully the class word will carry the same weight for the MLS program, now in its sixth year running, in years to come. Aguilar began this tradition for the incoming students last fall at their orientation. The word for the MLS class of 2024 is springboard, defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as a noun: “Something that helps to launch an activity, enterprise, etc.”

“I selected the word springboard in fall 2023 for our new MLS students because the students and our programs (in-person and online) were positioned to really take off,” Aguilar says. “Combined, the two programs’ students were our largest cohort, and that created a vibrancy and synergy. Administratively, the program had established itself and no longer felt ‘new.’ Taken all together, this was a time for the students and the program to launch themselves into the next level of their careers and the MLS program’s development.”

The magic word

So how does one choose a word to encompass the personality of a group of incoming students when each student brings their own unique background, personality, experience, and accomplishments? What is Aguilar’s process for selecting a class word that can have so much meaning at orientation and graduation?

“It’s a slow and somewhat organic process. It’s something I have in the back of my mind as we go through the file review in the fall, winter, and spring. In mid-spring when the class starts to solidify from the admitted pool, I keep an eye and ear out for common features, attributes, and observations,” Aguilar explains. “At the same time, I note what is going on in popular culture, politics, major domestic and international events. As July rolls around, I start looking for inspiration and most often ideas come to me while doing some type of outside activity (biking, hiking, gardening, dog walking, skateboarding). Then two weeks before orientation, I reread all the files to prepare the class profile speech and distill my ideas from a few words and phrases down to The Word.”

Aguilar is also an S.J. Quinney College of Law alum—class of 1992—and offers two words to describe his own law school experience, both as student and as an administrator.

“As a student: enlightening. As an administrator: transformative,” he says.