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Williams to address ’06 grads

Kelly Meehan | Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ann Claire Williams, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, will be the commencement speaker at Saint Mary’s May 20 graduation ceremony, College officials announced Wednesday.

Williams was named to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Ronald Reagan in 1985, making her the first African American woman to sit on the bench and one of the youngest federal appointees at the time.

Williams also became the first African American woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit when President Bill Clinton appointed her to the position in 1999.

As the third African American woman to serve on any appeals court in the country, Williams originally began her career in education. She worked as an elementary school teacher in her hometown of Detroit before graduating from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 1975.

Although Williams did not graduate from Saint Mary’s, senior Kathleen McMorrow said she believes Williams’ ties to Notre Dame indicate her knowledge of the College’s high reputation.

“She is an excellent choice,” McMorrow said. “It is great to bring a woman with high credentials to a school that places such value on education.”

Williams began her legal career as a clerk with Judge Robert Sprecher and she tried felony cases as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago from 1976 to 1985.

She has also worked to create programs to aid scholars who wish to follow in her footsteps. In 1997, she co-founded Minority Legal Education Resources to assist minorities in their quest to pass the Illinois bar exam. In 1993, Williams co-founded the Just the Beginning Foundation in an effort to increase diversity in the legal profession through celebrating the work of African American federal judges.

“Ann Claire Williams is an example of commitment, perseverance, and excellence,” Saint Mary’s College President Carol Ann Mooney said in a statement Wednesday. “Judge Williams epitomizes the servant leader. She uses her professional expertise and her wisdom in service of her country and all of its people. Her careful analysis, encompassing vision, and moral courage have earned her widespread respect.”