Justice delivers Penn State Law in University Park commencement address

May 06, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — New York County Supreme Court Judge Erika M. Edwards, a Penn State alumna, delivered the 2021 commencement address for Penn State Law in University Park on Saturday, May 15.

“I am truly honored and excited to deliver the commencement speech for Penn State Law’s Class of 2021,” Edwards said. “I look forward to seeing so many amazing Penn Staters who have successfully made it through an extremely challenging and difficult time. It is wonderful to know they will embark on an awesome profession with the skills necessary to improve our communities and be a champion for those who have no voice.”

Edwards has devoted her career to advancing social and racial justice and to creating greater access to justice.

She currently leads The Judicial Friends Association, an organization founded in 1976 by local, state and federal Black judges in the state of New York with the goal of achieving social and racial justice through law and service to the community. She has previously provided free legal clinics for those in need, conducted free healthcare proxies for senior citizens, and worked on programs regarding HIV/Aids awareness, know-your-rights seminars, voter registration and expansion of the pool of qualified minority and women federal, court-appointed criminal defense attorneys. As a judge, she continues to lend her expertise in areas of improving police and community relations, and criminal justice reform. She has also served as co-chair of the court’s Gender Fairness Committee. 

Edwards has a strong connection to Penn State and Penn State Law. She received her bachelor of arts in political science from the University and continues to make time to volunteer and support its students. She has participated in Penn State Law’s Careers in the Law program and helped many of its law students with career development by providing practical advice and tremendous insight. She is an active member of the North Manhattan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, a sorority she joined at Penn State.

“We are honored to have Justice Edwards serve as our 2021 Penn State Law Commencement speaker,” said Hari M. Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, distinguished professor of law, and professor of international affairs and geography. “She is a Penn State graduate who provides important leadership on social and racial justice. We are grateful to have her share her insights with our graduates.”

Edwards is a graduate of the Howard University School of Law and has had a successful career with a deep commitment to public service and the advancement of underrepresented groups in the law.

After a successful career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan and an associate at a law firm, primarily handling insurance defense of personal injury matters, Edwards opened her own practice in Harlem. There she provided criminal defense and specialized in false arrests by excessive force and civil rights violations. She followed that by becoming a founding partner at Donaldson, Chilliest & McDaniel LLP (now Donaldson & Chilliest LLP), which remains one of New York City’s largest minority-owned law firms.

For more information on Penn State Law in University Park commencement, visit https://pennstatelaw.psu.edu/events/2021-commencement.

Last Updated May 19, 2021