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Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks at the grand opening of Golkin Hall Credit: Justin Cohen , Justin Cohen

Thursday afternoon, the School of Law’s Golkin Hall celebrated its official opening with a special dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony with one of the nation’s most preeminent legal minds.

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at Irvine Auditorium as part of a culmination of a week’s worth of events to celebrate Golkin’s formal opening.

“We’re gathered to mark another milepost today, the end of the physical phase of the transformation of Penn Law’s campus,” Penn Law Dean Michael Fitts said. “At every milepost in Penn Law’s journey, we’ve had distinguished guests to mark the significance of the occasion,” referring to past appearances by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, as well as former Justice James Wilson, one of George Washington’s original six appointees to the court.

“I can think of no one better to help us commemorate the beginning of this new exciting era of Penn Law than Justice Sotomayor,” Penn President Amy Gutmann added.

Thursday’s event at Irvine featured a conversation between Sotomayor and Fitts, with Sotomayor answering questions submitted by law students. Additionally, Penn Law announced a special scholarship named in Sotomayor’s honor.

Sotomayor expressed her admiration of the new building and the importance of having a physical space for the study of law.

“Physical structures can create history, it can house the memories and emotions of people who are nurtured in them. It can inspire the people in them,” she said. “Now, the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School has taken one step further. It has expanded its reach and created a new, state-of-the-art building.”

Among other things, Golkin Hall features a new moot court room, 17 new faculty offices, a 350-seat auditorium, new study spaces in the lower floor of the building and a green roof.

“In other law schools, all the faculty are up on the 10th floor,” Vice Dean for Administrative Services at Penn Law Jo-Ann Verrier said. “Here, we’re all in it together.”

The new building was designed to “make people run into each other,” said Deputy Dean of Penn Law and Professor of Law and Health Sciences Tom Baker, a member of the building committee during construction.

“We’re very interdisciplinary and we’re a very warm, community-oriented place,” Baker said.

The $33.5-million construction project, which began in May 2010, replaces Pepper Hall, a single-floor administrative building.

Students, faculty and staff have expressed excitement over the new space.

“It’s beautiful. I really like the openness and natural light, that’s my favorite,” said Jaren Wilkerson, a first-year Law student. “I think it’s definitely a good example of modern architecture, which blends very nicely into the old architecture. It adds a feeling of continuity.”

“It’s incredible, and such a huge advantage in talking to international students about us to have such an improved physical environment,” added Penn Law Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs Matthew Parker. “The space really complements the first-class scholarship we have here.”

The completion of Golkin Hall marks the end of a 10-year transformation of Penn Law with renovated spaces and expanded faculty.

“This face of the Law School has really improved,” third-year Law student Annie Cheng said. “It’s not just a side entrance anymore.”

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