Skip Navigation

Website Sections

News Releases

Vt. Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson to Deliver Vermont Law School Commencement Address

May 1, 2014

NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, Geoffrey and Genie Shields are 2014 Honorees

CONTACT: Maryellen Apelquist, Director of Media Relations, Vermont Law School
office: 802-831-1228, cell: 802-299-5593,

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., April 30, 2014––Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson, widely regarded for her work on LGBT civil rights, will deliver the 39th Commencement address at Vermont Law School on Saturday, May 17, President and Dean Marc Mihaly announced today.

In addition to honoring Robinson, VLS will confer honorary degrees upon U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer, former VLS Dean Geoffrey Shields, and artist and writer Genie Shields.

“I am pleased to announce our 2014 commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients,” Mihaly said. “Justice Robinson is nationally recognized for her work related to civil rights and same-sex marriage. We look forward to honoring her as well as Congressman Welch for his public service, Tom Steyer for his commitment to the environment, and Geoffrey and Genie Shields for their enduring commitment to Vermont Law School. These individuals bring passion and unwavering dedication to their causes, and are an inspiration to our students and to the greater Vermont Law community.”

This year’s honorees are:

Justice Beth Robinson serves on the Vermont Supreme Court. She has a long career in public service, and her work on LGBT civil rights is widely recognized. She was co-counsel in the case of Baker v. State, the landmark 1999 decision that led to Vermont becoming the first state to enact a civil union law, and was a leader in the subsequent advocacy that culminated in Vermont’s legislature being the first in the country to, on its own, pass a statute allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. Robinson clerked on the D.C. Circuit, worked at the law firm of Langrock Sperry and Wool for 18 years, and served as counsel to Gov. Peter Shumlin before being appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court in November 2011. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and received her JD from the University of Chicago Law School.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2006, following a distinguished career as a state legislator. After graduation from College of the Holy Cross in 1969, he was selected as one of the first Robert F. Kennedy Fellows, working in Chicago to fight housing discrimination. Welch is a 1973 graduate of University of California Berkley, Boalt Hall. After graduating from law school, he settled in White River Junction and worked as a public defender before establishing a small law practice. He also served as an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School during this time. Welch serves on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Tom Steyer is an investor, philanthropist and advanced energy advocate. He is the founder of NextGen Climate, an organization that acts politically to avert climate disaster and preserve American prosperity. Steyer works to promote economic development and environmental protection in California, and serves on the board at Stanford University, where he founded two renewable energy research institutions. Last year, the Environmental Law Institute presented Steyer with its Environment Achievement Award in recognition of his leadership in clean energy and climate change policy. Steyer shared the award with George Schultz, former secretary of the treasury and secretary of state, with whom he created a bipartisan coalition to defeat California’s Proposition 23, an effort by out-of-state oil companies to dismantle California’s groundbreaking clean energy law. He and his wife, Kat Taylor, joined Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, and other high-wealth Americans in the “Giving Pledge,” a promise to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable and nonprofit activities during their lifetimes. Steyer graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale and received his MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Geoffrey Shields is a former Vermont Law School dean and longtime supporter. He became the school’s seventh dean in August 2004 after serving as a partner at the Chicago law firm of Gardner Carton & Douglas, where he was nationally recognized for his expertise in not-for-profit law, corporate law, health care law and international trade law. He received his BA in economics, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1967 and his JD from Yale Law School in 1972. During Shields’ tenure, VLS solidified its position as the nation’s premier environmental law program and also expanded the school’s international focus. He helped establish the school’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, Distance Learning master’s programs, and Land Use Clinic. Additionally, he began two major building projects, the Center for Legal Services and the fitness center, which are now utilized and admired by students and the South Royalton community.

Genie Shields is an accomplished artist and writer, and is the co-author of “Fairie-ality: The Ellwand Collection.” She was influential in creating the Partners Group, a networking and social group for partners of VLS students. She worked closely with students, regularly attending their events and conferences, including the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, and curated many of the art displays across campus. Genie Shields continues to leave an indelible mark on the Vermont Law School community through her generosity and advocacy.

The 39th Commencement ceremony at Vermont Law School will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 17, on the South Royalton Village Green. About 300 candidates will be presented for juris doctor, master of laws, and master’s degrees. In addition to Saturday’s ceremony, Tom Steyer will deliver an honorary degree lecture, titled “Climate Solutions—Building a Clean Energy Future,” at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 16. This event is free and open to the public. For more information about commencement, visit


Vermont Law School, a private, independent institution, has the top-ranked environmental law program and one of the top-ranked clinical training programs in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor curriculum that emphasizes public service; two Master’s Degrees (Master of Environmental Law and Policy, and Master of Energy Regulation and Law), and three post-JD degrees—LLM in American Legal Studies (for foreign-trained lawyers), LLM in Energy Law, and LLM in Environmental Law. The school features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center, the South Royalton Legal Clinic, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. For more information, visit, find us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

Bookmark and Share