UIC Law Hosts 46th Freedom & Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony

On May 20, the Law School hosted its 46th Freedom & Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony, the first held since the ceremony’s postponement in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year’s honorees included the Honorable Ruben Castillo, the Honorable James Shadid (’82), the Honorable Mariyana Spyropoulos (‘96), Greta Powell (’12) and Professor Mark Wojcik (’86).

The annual Freedom & Distinguished Service Awards Reception, one of the alumni community’s signature events, honors alumni and members of the legal profession who uphold the highest standards upon which civil society stands. Initially separate events, the Freedom Award and Distinguished Service Awards combined to provide alumni members a forum to recognize significant contributions to society and celebrate the achievements of their fellow graduates.

First presented in 1974, the Law School’s Alumni Association has presented the Freedom Award to honorees who, through their thought leadership, accomplishments or profession, reflect and uphold the basic tenets of freedom. First awarded to CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite, the Freedom Award has since recognized many of the highest-ranking officers of the judiciary, elected office, private practice and American enterprise. 

This year’s Freedom Award was presented to Hon. Ruben Castillo, former Chief Judge of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Judge Castillo, the first Latino to serve the Northern District as chief judge, has been pivotal in expanding diversity within the federal court system and the Chicago legal community. Before serving on the bench, he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Special Criminal Prosecutions Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. He has taught Trial Advocacy at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law for more than 20 years.

Since their debut in 1966, the Distinguished Service Awards have recognized recipients for significant achievement in their chosen career; supporting the Law School’s students, alumni, faculty, and staff and for reflecting the values that embody the Law School’s tradition, history and mission. In addition to its traditional Distinguished Service Award, the 46th award ceremony also included two new awards—the Public Service and Rising Star Awards—and the more recently developed Ambassador Award.

The 2022 Distinguished Service Award was presented to Hon. James Shadid (JD 1983), who served as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois from 2012-2019. Before his nomination to the seat by President Barack Obama, Judge Shadid served on the Tenth Circuit of Illinois. Throughout his career, he has enthusiastically supported the Law School’s alumni and student populations at events throughout the state.

Hon. Mariyana Spyropoulos (JD 1996), Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), was honored with the inaugural Public Service Award. Commissioner Spyropoulos has served MWRD for more than a decade, including as Chairperson of Finance from 2013-2015 and President from 2015-2019. Her efforts in service to Chicago include limiting the use of pesticides, advocating for pharmaceutical takeback legislation, supporting legislation for the proper labeling of non-disposable wipes, advocating for the use of green infrastructure as a stormwater tool and more.

The first Rising Star Award was presented to Gretchen “Greta” Powell (JD 2012), a Partner at Smith Blake Hill, whose practice focuses on the representation of hospitals, physicians, and nurses. Ms. Powell is involved in the Chicagoland Healthcare Risk Management Society, the Chicago Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association, as well as remaining active coach in UIC Law’s Trial Advocacy Program. In 2019, she was the recipient of the Jury Verdict Reporter’s Trial Lawyer Excellence Award for Outstanding Defense Verdict in a Medical Malpractice Case.

The 2022 Ambassador Award, which recognizes an alumni member who through their goodwill displays dedication and fellowship toward UIC Law and the general community, honored Professor Mark E. Wocjik (JD 1986). Professor Wojcik has been a tireless servant of the law and the Law School since joining the faculty in 1992. He has represented the institution nationally and internationally as a leader of AALS, ABA, and other association section committees, as a Fulbright scholar and world traveler, as the founder of the Global Legal Skills Conference and in other forums, as well as acting as an invested mentor of decades of law students.

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