Sunflower Ceremony Shines for Class of 2024 

Jamaal Lockings, Kirk Watson, and Bobby Chesney prepare to speak at the sunflower Ceremony
Class president Jamaal Lockings ’24, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, and Dean Bobby Chesney before taking the stage at the 2024 Sunflower Ceremony. Photo by Christopher Roberts.

Graduating students in the traditional light summer colors, punctuated with bursts of yellow, enjoyed the cheers of family and friends and the wisdom of speakers at the most recent Sunflower Ceremony. 

On Saturday, May 11, 2024, students, faculty, family, and friends gathered in Gregory Gym at The University of Texas at Austin to honor graduating J.D. and LL.M. students. The school’s annual Sunflower Ceremony, continuing a tradition that dates back the beginning of the 20th century, brought together 21 LL.M. students from 10 different countries and 402 J.D. students alongside family and friends—4,000 in person and 1,700 watching online—for a 90-minute presentation.  

Texas Law custom sees students opt for summer suits and sunflowers over traditional gradation regalia, and the class of 2024 was an impressive sight. Speakers included Dean Bobby Chesney, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, and Class President Jamaal Lockings ’24. 

Before the ceremony began, faculty and students expressed their excitement.

“I always come to graduation every year. I look forward to it,” said Professor Jim Marcus, co-director of the Capital Punishment Clinic. “It’s really great to see our students who’ve worked so hard to get to this point. This is a large class compared to recent years and there’s a lot of terrific students in it who are headed off into public defender careers and other great public interest work and I’m so proud of them and I’m super happy to be here.”

LLM students and a staff members backstage at the 2024 Sunflower Ceremony
Prof. Carly Toepke (center) with graduating LL.M. students. Photo by Callie Richmond.

Other faculty members agreed. “It’s great to see students who came in as first-year students walk across the stage, get their sunflowers, and celebrate,” said Professor Steven Goode, who has attended decades of commencement celebrations. “Gregory Gym is a great place for it—it’s an intimate setting that holds a lot of people. There’s an excitement that’s unmatched in other graduation ceremonies I’ve been to,” said Goode, the W. James Kronzer Chair in Trial and Appellate Advocacy. 

For some students, just ahead of the ceremony, their excitement was tinged with a hint of sadness at leaving Austin.  

LL.M. student Jack Hennessy ’24, initially came to Texas Law as an exchange student from Ireland in the spring 2022 semester, later enrolling in the LL.M. program starting in August 2023. “I’m just really going to miss Austin. I was driving over the bridge the other day, and I was looking over at that skyline and seeing Ladybird Lake, and it all kind of hit me,” said Hennessy, who is starting work as an associate in the corporate department at Baker Botts in Houston. “It’s truly the best place in the world to be a law student and it’s a huge honor to be graduating.”  

Wisdom and Encouragement 

The lineup of commencement speakers offered numerous words of encouragement and insight. 

Chesney launched the ceremony by acknowledging the “superpowers” students had gained over the roughly 1,000 days since he had addressed the class at its orientation in August 2021. “You can achieve things—for yourselves, for your clients, for your communities, for society—that some people think are impossible,” Chesney said. 

“Texas Law students are difference-makers,” Chesney exclaimed. “Some of you do this through your participation in pro bono projects. Some by the work you did in our clinics or in internships, or on journals or in our advocacy programs or, for that matter, by making fun of us in Assault and Flattery. And some just by being exceptional friends and colleagues to one another.”

One of those exceptional graduates spoke next. 

“When each of us made a decision to pursue a career in law, we weren’t merely embarking on an academic pursuit; rather, from the very moment we stepped foot into law school, we were drawn into a timeless conversation that has and will continue to shape our nation,” said Lockings, who following graduation will work as a fellow at the Alliance for Justice in Washington, D.C. “Our class, once faced with navigating the tail end of the pandemic, has now forged a legacy marked by resilience and renewal.”

Lockings pointed to the graduating class’s efforts on behalf of their community, with nearly half of the class completing over 50 hours of pro bono work and nearly a third providing over 100 hours of legal services. “Through these efforts, we expanded access to our justice system, directly impacting individuals and driving tangible change,” he said. “These experiences allowed for us to anchor all of our studying in something far more substantial than a grade.”

Mayor Kirk Watson addresses the 2024 Sunflower Ceremony from the podium
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. Photo by Callie Richmond.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson then offered his thoughts, informed by his own law degree and career. “My deepest hope for you is that decades from now, your pride lets you say that you’re defined by what it has meant to be a lawyer.” 

“You are the people who will carry the system into the last third of the 21st century. It will require work. We know there will be changes, some impossible to predict that will require the role of law to also change. How fast will those changes come? What will you hand off? What will being a lawyer mean?” Watson asked. “My request of you is to feel it in your guts that this is more than a degree; it’s a responsibility. The system, including one that must evolve because society evolves, depends on you.” 

Joyful Celebration 

Following the speakers’ words, the names of graduates were read, and they triumphantly crossed the stage. 

Family and friends who were in attendance added to the celebration. Some of the youngest attendees—the children of graduating students—accompanied their parents onstage to receive handshakes and sunflowers and get their photos taken. 

“It was a great ceremony—it was very joyful,” said Sue Kovarik, who was visiting from Phoenix, alongside her husband Brian, for the graduation of her daughter Kiersten Schneider ’24, who is headed to a clerkship with Judge Daniel Kiley of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One. “And I love the fact that when the kids were lined up and going into the commencement there was that buzz of talking and cheering. It was really special.”  

At the ceremony’s conclusion, there was a colorful sustained downpour of confetti. Then, the class of 2024 left the auditorium for what comes next—with the collective confidence the newest Texas Law graduates will continue to make their mark on the world.  

Graduates are celebrated with streams of confetti.

The ceremony was livestreamed and watched by more than 1,700 viewers through Texas Law’s YouTube channel. View the Sunflower Ceremony 2024 Playlist on YouTube.

For additional reading, see our article on career plans for select Class of 2024 members and the text and videos of remarks by Class President Jamaal Lockings and Mayor Kirk Watson. 

View Photos on Flickr

Category: Law School News