Two Afghan lawyers return home as LL.M. graduates – and as agents of reform.

Munira Akhunzada and Shamsi Maqsoudi are back in their native Afghanistan now, advocating for clients and for change in their homeland’s legal system. But their impact on the Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law is still being felt.

In May, the two human rights attorneys graduated with LL.M. (Master of Laws) degrees, completing their studies as special selectees of the U.S. government’s Public Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. At the graduation ceremony on Chapman’s campus, Akhunzada was picked to give the Commencement address by a vote of her classmates, most of whom are men from Saudi Arabia, where women face many restrictions, including not being able to travel without a male guardian.

“These are men who may not have voted before and they voted not only for a woman but an Afghan woman,” said Professor Ron Steiner, director of graduate programs for the Fowler School of Law. “It’s quite extraordinary.”

“She’s one of the best students in our group,” said LL.M. classmate Waleed Omari, describing Akhunzada to KPCC News, which covered the Commencement ceremony. “She has a message for the world.”

That message still resounds through Kennedy Hall.

“The person who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare,” Akhunzada said in her speech. “This is the challenge that lies before us.”

Akhunzada, who earned the highest grade in four of her classes, plans to use her new knowledge to become a judge in Afghanistan, while Maqsoudi wants to become a professor of law at Kabul University.

Before Maqsoudi and Akhunzada, other lawyers from Afghanistan had traveled to study at Chapman, and more are following them, as the university remains a key player in the educational partnership for justice reform. But the two students, who have faced threats and hardships for seeking expanded rights for women in Afghanistan, won’t soon be forgotten on the Chapman campus.

“They felt an obligation to take advantage of this opportunity,” Steiner said, “and they did just that.”