Savannah State University (SSU) will hold its 182nd commencement ceremony at 9 a.m., Saturday, May 4, 2013, in T.A. Wright Stadium. More than 350 students will receive undergraduate and graduate degrees during the ceremony — the largest graduating class in SSU history. Retired Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears of the Georgia Supreme Court will serve as guest speaker.
The first African- American female chief justice of any state’s highest appellate court, Sears is also the first woman and youngest person to serve as a judge of the Fulton County (GA) Superior Court. By the appointment of former Gov. Zell Miller in 1992, she became the first woman and youngest person ever to sit on the Georgia Supreme Court. In retaining her Supreme Court post later that year, Sears also became the first woman in Georgia to win a contested statewide election.
Upon retiring from the bench in 2009 after 17 years of service, Sears accepted a position as partner with Schiff Hardin LLP in Atlanta where she leads the law firm’s Appellate Group. She is the recipient of dozens of awards and honors recognizing her contributions to the legal community and the state of Georgia, including being named one of “50 Top Innovators, Visionaries and Legal Leaders in Law” by Fastcase in 2012. She is also the founder and first president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and founder of the Battered Women’s project in Columbus, among other community activities and initiatives.
A graduate of Alfred Ely Beach High School in Savannah, Sears earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a juris doctorate from the Emory University School of Law and a Master of Laws degree from the University of Virginia in appellate judicial process. She also holds honorary degrees from Spelman, Piedmont, LaGrange and Morehouse colleges, as well as Clark- Atlanta University and John Marshall Law School.