The voice enunciated solemnly into the microphone, "Mr. President, the convocation is in order."
The color guard advanced, speakers spoke and Ronald George Abud bounded off the red-carpeted podium, bringing nearly a decade of frustration and lobbying to an exuberant end.
Holding his diploma aloft and shaking it victoriously, Abud let a grin spread across his face. He had just become the first graduate of George Mason University's newly accredited School of Law.
Abud, from Detroit, was among 218 men and 47 women awarded law degrees at commencement ceremonies Saturday. The guests, who numbered more than 1,000, were as pleased as the graduates. All the elements for a proper ceremony were there, including a prestigious speaker, former Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
But it was the recent accreditation, confirmed only a week ago by the American Bar Association, that tinged the ceremonies with unanticipated sparkle and excitement.When the diplomas were finally handed out, the audience couldn't resist some enthusiastic applause and a few whoops and hollers.
"We worked like hell for this. We brought busloads to Richmond to lobby," Abud declared, receiving congratulatory pats from his fellow classmates. "Because of our efforts this law school is going to be a better law school."
"Almost everyone who came here rolled the dice," said another graduate, 30-year-old Rod Bradley, from Denver. "This time, we won."
The ceremonies, at the law school campus in Arlington, were preceded that morning by the official dedication of the school. Those ceremonies attracted state officials, including Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, and local legislators and officials.
The impact of the accreditation left little doubt as to the merits of a celebration Saturday. Graduates can now sit for bar examinations in every state. Without accreditation, the new initiates would be allowed to take the bar exams in only two states. To practice law in a state, a lawyer generally must first pass that state's bar exam.
The new graduates knew only too well the tribulations of the law school's battle for accreditation. Nicknamed the "heart attack class," the 1980 graduates said that each time accreditation appeared imminent, a rejection notice would surface -- usually a week before exams.
"We all got used to bending over and being kicked. I began to think it (accreditation) would never happen," said graduate Bradley.
Originally established as the International School of Law in 1972, the General Assembly last year approved a plan to make the law school part of George Mason University. Throughout last year, university President George Johnson and other school officials worked diligently to assure the accreditation.The merger of the two schools, which gave the law school the promise of a secure financial base, persuaded the American Bar Association to eliminate the final roadblock to accreditation this month.
Although there was no shortage of celebration Saturday, Jaworski injected a note of solemnity.
Jaworski grimly warned graduates and guests that the country faces a new era of lawlessness, similar to the student revolts of the 1960s, if striking public servants continue to violate court orders.
"A careful look at what is occurring in current times impels the conclusion that in this country we are about to set the cycle in motion again -- the only difference being that the rule of law is being flouted by the older generation with greater abandonment than ever before," Jaworski said.
Criticizing lawyers who defend the right of striking firefighters, teachers, policemen and other public employes to disobey court orders to return to work, Jaworski admonished the graduates that it was their duty as lawyers to counsel clients against such actions.
"It is the obligation of the lawyer to rise in protest against such violation, and I hope to see the day when lawyers en masse "belly-up" to this obligation and discharge it with fervor and effectiveness," Jaworski said.
Jaworski concluded his message to the graduates by borrowing a line from Daniel Webster:
"The law, it has honored us, may we honor it."