Commencement Speaker

The Commencement Speaker for Commencement 2017 on May 12, 2017 will be New York Supreme Court Justice Shawndya Luisa Simpson.

Justice Shawndya Simpson was elected in Brooklyn as a Civil Court Judge of the City of New York on November 4, 2003. The ten-year term began on January 1, 2004, she sat in Manhattan Criminal Court for eight years. In 2013, she was re-elected to another ten-year term and is currently an Acting Supreme Court Justice sitting in Kings County Supreme Court presiding over felony matters. In November 2016, she was elected to Supreme Court Justice of the State of New York, Kings County.

Simpson was one of New York's most experienced and accomplished prosecutors having successfully convicted over ninety percent of the defendants in her cases. Simpson has dedicated her legal career to public service. She served as Bureau Chief of a felony trial unit in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office where she supervised over forty Assistant District Attorneys and was responsible for the prosecution of thousands of criminal cases. She has conducted hundreds of Grand Jury presentations and has extensive trial experience involving felony offenses such as homicides, sexual offenses, robberies, burglaries, assaults, narcotics and firearm possession. She is particularly masterful at jury selection, oral arguments, opening statements, summations and direct and cross examination of civilian, police and expert witnesses. Simpson is highly regarded in the New York legal community for her sense of fairness and unwavering commitment to the pursuit of justice. Her adversaries had immense respect for her ability to captivate jurors with a blend of intensity, charm, wit and passion.

She was born in Brooklyn, New York, where she resided in public housing and at an early age learned the reality of the inner city. Her Stepfather subsequently served as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, which enabled her family to travel extensively around the world. She lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for several years. Upon high school graduation in Leavenworth, Kansas, she pursued her secondary education at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, where she received her Bachelor of Science in 1987. She later completed her graduate work at the same institution, receiving her Juris Doctor in 1990.

Simpson has appeared on numerous television shows as a legal commentator covering high profile cases explaining courtroom events, the logistics of the legal system and trial strategy. She appeared frequently on Court TV. She has also appeared on The Dan Abrams Show on MSNBC, The Fox News Channel and The Geraldo Show. Simpson was also an On Camera Attorney of the Nationally Syndicated Twentieth Century Fox TV courtroom drama, "Power of Attorney" where On Camera Attorneys argue on behalf of litigants in a variety of civil cases. The shows On Camera Attorneys included some of the nation’s top legal stars including Gloria Allred, Christopher Darden, Marcia Clark, Tom Pope and Ben Morelli. She was also featured on the CBS Early Morning Show about “Digital Grounding.”

Simpson has been featured in a September 2008 New York Times article titled "Behind the Gavel, a Sense of Style", in the February 2009 issue of Essence Magazine's inaugural column "How She Does It” and in the Fall 2009 Pitt Law Magazine titled “The Powerof One.” She has also had numerous Court Decisions published in the New York Law Journal. Simpson was the guest speaker at her Alma Mater, the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Law and Social work, for the annual Distinguished Rubash Lecture. The Lecture was entitled “The Blend of Professional Expertise: Law and Social Work in Legal Decision Making.” She was a visiting Professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta, Georgia. She has also lectured on the subject of Law and American Society at the College of New Rochelle in New York. She has been a guest speaker at numerous graduations, schools, churches, forums and at civic organization events.

As the product of the inner city, Simpson possesses a strong sense of civic responsibility. She dedicates an enormous amount of time and energy to several charitable endeavors. She was the Youth Leadership Coordinator at the Jackie Robinson Center and she sat on the Board of Managers at the Bedford Stuyvesant YMCA and Project Reach Youth (PRY) in Brooklyn. At the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, she was the Chairperson of the Office's Leadership and Sensitivity training committee that entails the training of new Assistant District Attorneys by exposing them to different cultures and lifestyles through lectures and panel discussions. She also actively participated in the Office's "adopt a school" program targeting fifth graders in an effort to educate them through a law related education curriculum with an emphasis on drug and bias prevention.

Simpson has been honored by The University of Pittsburgh, “Distinguish Alumnae Award”, The New York Criminal Bar Association, Mother of the Year of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., and for her leadership and commitment to the youth and the community, she was honored by The Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, City Council Member Hon. Mathieu Eugene’s Community Diversity and Leadership Celebration, The Dedicators Inc., Organization of Progressive Panamanians, The Tabernacle of Praise Church, twice by The Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture and the 2016 National Jack & Jill of America Inc, First Place, “The Power to Make a Difference Award”.

Simpson is a member of good standing in the New York State Bar Association, Brooklyn Bar Association, Kings County Inns of Court, Metropolitan Black Bar Association, Brooklyn Women's Bar Association, Judicial Friends, The Links Inc., Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Simpson is married to Jacob Walthour, Jr., Managing Director at BLUEPRINT Capital Advisors. They have four children Shariah, Sharidan, Jacob Ross and Sharis.