U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who has been at the center of controversies ranging from President Clinton's fund-raising scandal to this week's antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft Corp., took time out of her frenzied schedule to address graduates of the University Law School Sunday morning. Reno, the country's top law enforcer since March 1993, was greeted by a standing ovation and a host of camera flashes as she took the podium at the Academy of Music. Her 20-minute speech was peppered with anecdotes from her 35 years of practicing law, advice to this year's graduates and calls for the new attorneys to work toward "a more peaceful society." Reno also drew laughter from the crowd. The 59-year-old Miami native said she could not have imagined as she graduated from Harvard Law School in 1963 "that my nieces and nephews would be having a debate on whether I should be watching Saturday Night Live or not," referring to the NBC comedy-skit show that has lampooned her in such bits as "Janet Reno's Dance Party." In addition, Reno told the story of a woman who recently thanked her for getting her child-support payments -- decades after Reno had done the work. The nation's first female attorney general -- who has faced criticism for her role in such incidents as the April 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas -- did not discuss any such controversies. Instead, she explained her positions on overarching legal issues. "Every one of us has the obligation? to be an advocate, to be the sword and shield," Reno said. Reno, who earned her bachelor's degree in 1960 from Cornell University, urged the graduates to examine their actions in the context of the larger community. "We've got to look at the big picture," she said. Before skipping out to head to the graduation ceremony for Syracuse University's School of Law, Reno told of how she cared for her mother, Jane Wood Reno, in her last days, living with her as she died of cancer over a three-year period. During that time, Janet Reno took her mother on a Caribbean cruise and a trek across Canada, among other trips, to give her "best friend" some great experiences before she died in 1992 at age 79. "The fact that she had a happy, long life? is one of the most important things for my life," Reno said. Although welcome, Reno's presence may have been a surprise to some. The University did not announce the selection until last Friday, about "six to eight weeks" after Reno had accepted the invitation, according to Gary Clinton, the Law School's assistant dean for student affairs. Reno's office "told us we couldn't announce it formally until the Friday before the event," citing the possibility of a last-minute cancellation, Clinton said on Tuesday. However, students in the graduating Law class had known about Reno's speech since her acceptance, he added. A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson did not immediately return a call for comment. Without advance notice, campus periodicals were unable to publicize Reno's expected appearance. The Almanac and last Wednesday's Pennsylvania Current -- both published by the University -- printed schedules of graduation ceremonies and speakers but did not list a speaker for the Law School commencement. But the speech that garnered just as big a reaction -- if not bigger -- from the audience was made by Estela de Llanos, president of the Law School's class of 1998, who spoke shortly before Reno. De Llanos drew laughter and applause with an anecdote about when she first appeared to be headed for the legal profession. At the age of five, she lied to protect her father from an auto mechanic who was charging a high amount for a repair, telling the mechanic he did not tell her father the cost of the job -- even after she witnessed the exchange. "And with that, I became a lawyer," she said. The Santa Monica, Calif., native also recounted her three years at the Law School. "The third year completely blacked out because of all the bars we? [brief pause] had to apply to," de Llanos said, to big laughs. After Reno's speech, the school awarded diplomas to 66 recipients of master of laws degrees, 226 recipients of juris doctor degrees and one recipient of a doctor of juridical science degree.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.