Liberal Arts college marshal will pursue social justice reform at Yale Law

Brynn Boehler
April 12, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At Penn State's May 4 spring commencement ceremony, 22 graduating seniors will represent the College of the Liberal Arts as student marshals. Approximately 1,500 undergraduates will receive their degrees at the event.  

Brendan Bernicker, a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar, has been selected to represent all liberal arts students as the college student marshal and commencement speaker. He is graduating with bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and political science, as well as a master of arts degree in political science. He will be escorted by faculty marshal Christopher Moore, assistant professor of philosophy and classics. 

When asked what advice he would give to incoming Penn State students, Bernicker said, “Seek out challenges, both inside and outside the classroom.”

This is exactly what he has done throughout his time as a liberal arts student.

Bernicker has largely focused his studies on systemic legal issues, performing research on legal treatment of opioid addiction, stereotypes’ effects on punishment, and extralegal factors affecting juvenile conviction and incarceration. Through research assistantships, his master of arts thesis, and his honors thesis, he was able to study how to better the system he will work in.

To accompany his research, Bernicker spent many hours working for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) and the Centre County Office of the Public Defender as an intern investigator. In both roles, he participated in all stages of criminal cases. Bernicker also took his legal experience to an international level, studying and working at Oxford University in England.

Along with his rigorous studies, Bernicker made time for causes that have had great significance to him. As part of United Network Europa and the International Model United Nations Association, he directed U.N. committee simulations in Rome and New York City. He also received a Nevins Fellowship for working at Everyday Democracy. There, he helped analyze and discuss civic health in low-income communities. In all of these roles, Bernicker has taught other students and communities about civic engagement.

For everything he has taught others, Bernicker has received many honors both inside and outside of Penn State. Bernicker received the 2018 Rock Ethics Institute Stand Up Award for his commitment to leadership and social justice in the legal system. He also was nominated for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and was selected for the Rock Ethics Institute Honors Thesis Fellowship, the Evan Pugh Scholar Senior Award, and the Phi Beta Kappa honor society — all for excellence in research and academics.

Bernicker emphasized his own liberal arts coursework, not as separate, specific classes, but as “a set of tools for understanding the world.” After graduation, he plans to use these tools at Yale Law School and plans to pursue a career in public interest law and criminal justice policy reform.

Bernicker’s numerous accomplishments speak for themselves, but his advice for other students to achieve their own goals hinges on a few telling questions. Bernicker encourages students to ask themselves about their priorities and their impact on the world at large.

“If you have never deeply engaged with these questions,” Bernicker said, “now is a good time, and the College of the Liberal Arts is the right place.”

This is the second in a series of stories on the 22 student marshals representing the College of the Liberal Arts at the spring 2019 commencement ceremony.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 12, 2019