Judge Robert Rigsby '86 Urges Incoming JD Students to 'Change the World'

Associate Judge of the D.C. Superior Court Robert Rigsby ’86 spoke to the incoming JD class of 2026 during a convocation ceremony in August.

UC Law SF’s incoming JD class got a special welcome from one of the school’s noteworthy alumni — Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Robert Rigsby ’86. He gave the keynote address to some 380 first-year law students at Convocation, capping off orientation week in August.

“Starting today, a world of possibilities is opening up to you,” Rigsby said. “Some of you will become judges. Some of you will become policymakers. Some of you might even make it to the West Wing. You never know where this journey will take you.”

Judge Robert Rigsby has earned numerous recognitions for his trial work and military service.

Rigsby became an Associate Judge of the D.C. Superior Court in 2002 after being nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He previously served as Attorney General for the District of Columbia. From 1981 to 2014, he served in the U.S. Army, where he took on multiple roles and duties as a member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He became a military judge in 2003 and received numerous awards, decorations, and honors for his trial work and acts of heroism and valor.

Growing up as a boy in the nearby city of Vallejo, California, Rigsby recalled how he used to get in trouble with the law. He said he was on a “path of self-destruction” before mentors in his hometown helped steer him in the right direction. He went on to play football at San Jose State University, where he found his stride as a top student, before pursuing a law degree at UC Law San Francisco.

Judge Robert Rigsby told students to have faith in themselves. 

Looking back at his time as a UC Law SF student, Rigsby said: “With [the Legal Education Opportunity Program] and other programs that were available to students, we learned to thrive. We didn’t do it by ourselves. We had a community of professors that I’m still in contact with to this day that invested in all of us.”

Rigsby made history in 2009 as the first sitting D.C. Superior Court judge and military judge in the Army deployed to an active theater of war. He made history again in 2013 when he was chosen to instruct judges in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He told students that when he was entering law school, he never thought he would end up serving as the sole military judge in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did he imagine he’d become a presidentially appointed judge. “Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and take advantage of the opportunities that enable you to make a difference,” he said.

Judge Robert Rigsby led law students in reciting the Pledge of Professionalism.

Acknowledging that the first year of law school is hard, Rigsby encouraged students to persevere, practice self-care, and support one other. “Have faith in yourselves,” he said. “Law school goes by faster than you would believe. Remember to enjoy the process.”

Before leading students in reciting the Pledge of Professionalism to wrap up orientation week, Rigsby reminded the class of 2026 that studying law is a privilege, one that should never be taken for granted. He urged students to use this privilege to make a positive difference.

“Whether you are a corporate lawyer or prosecutor, a public defender, a law professor, or even a dean, you will have an impact wherever you go,” he said. “Class of 2026, you are the next generation of greatness. Congratulations, and go change the world.”