Justice Mary Yu

Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu will deliver the 2016 Whitman College Commencement address.

“I am honored to be part of this year’s Commencement at Whitman College because it’s an extraordinary, innovative institution of higher education with a social conscience,” said Yu. “When I visited Whitman last year, I was impressed with the students’ level of engagement and concern for social justice and racial equity.”

Appointed by Governor Jay Inslee, Justice Yu joined the Supreme Court in 2014 after serving as a King County trial court judge for more than 14 years. During those years, she heard a wide variety of criminal and civil cases and presided over hundreds of adoptions and other family law matters. Yu is the first Asian, the first woman of color and the first member of the LGBT community to serve on the Washington Supreme Court.

“I am delighted that Justice Yu will be our speaker,” President Kathleen Murray said. “She has a real passion for social justice that many of our own students share. She is a role model who is always looking for ways to best serve the most marginalized people in our communities.”

Yu grew up on the south side of Chicago, raised by immigrant parents: her mother came from Mexico and her father from China. She is the first in her family to graduate from college. After receiving her degree in theology from Dominican University, she began social justice work for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Yu earned her master’s in religious studies from Mundelein College of Loyola University and her law degree at the University of Notre Dame. She moved to Seattle and served as deputy chief of staff to King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng and as a deputy in the criminal and civil divisions.

A frequent speaker for legal education seminars, Yu is also active in a variety of community and professional activities. She performed the first same-sex marriage in Washington State, and her list of recent awards includes: “Judge of the Year” from the Washington State Association for Justice; “Public Official of the Year” from the municipal League Foundation; and the 2012 “Difference Makers Award” from the American Bar Association Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

It won’t be Yu’s first time on campus. She was a keynote speaker on campus in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in January 2015. Whitman College landed on her radar after Sydney Conway '13 served as a clerk for her the previous summer. The alumna made such an impression on Yu that she wanted to visit campus.

“I am optimistic about the future because I am confident that our leaders will come from Whitman,” said Yu.