A Special Graduate

Press Date
May 10, 2024
Election Law Conference panelists

L-R: Christian Searcy, Salesia Smith-Gordon ('92), Sean Pittman ('94),
Matthew Russell ('73), and Dean Erin O'Hara O'Connor.

On Monday, April 22, 2024, another special FSU Law graduation ceremony took place in South Florida and it was 51 years in the making! Matthew C. Russell (’73), 88, was an attorney, educator, and civic leader in Riviera Beach for decades. Russell graduated from law school in 1973, but due to family obligations, returned immediately to Palm Beach County after completing his exams and never attended his own doctoral hooding ceremony. His family only learned recently that not attending the ceremony was one of his biggest regrets. They contacted alumnus and Board of Visitors member Sean Pittman (‘94) who grew up as an admirer of Russell in Riviera Beach to aid in the family’s request of seeing Russell hooded.

After learning that Russell was too ill to travel, Pittman and Dean O’Connor flew to South Florida to conduct a hooding ceremony and present a reissued degree to Russell at the Heron Estates Senior Center in Riviera Beach. 

At this past Sunday’s graduation ceremony, Dean O’Connor shared that what she had expected to be a small ceremony was actually a large standing-room-only crowd of Russell's many friends, family, colleagues, local dignitaries, and officials. Russell  arrived with a police escort, recognizing the years that he spent representing the police department. Everyone in attendance was there to thank and honor Russell for his many years of service and mentorship. As Dean O’Connor told our new graduates, “It was clear that he practiced with hard work, precision, and fierce advocacy... He practiced with fairness, integrity, and the conscious awareness that he was a role model for the attorneys who would come behind him.” Dean O’Connor told our new graduates that FSU Law school wishes them similar success in their legal careers.