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UMN alum Laura Coates: A University of Minnesota grand marshal for the ages

Laura Coates, CNN’s chief legal analyst, served as the grand marshal for the University’s 2023 homecoming parade.
Image by Eleanor King
Laura Coates rides along in the Homecoming parade on Friday, Sept. 30.

Laura Coates, CNN’s chief legal analyst and anchor of the channel’s show “Laura Coates Live,” was selected to serve as grand marshal for the University of Minnesota’s 2023 homecoming parade on Friday by the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA). 

Coates is a St. Paul native and 2005 graduate of the University’s Law School. Prior to her work at CNN, Coates served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice during the Bush and Obama administrations.

Marissa Smith, UMAA’s vice president of engagement, said the association has the privilege of recognizing one alum each year as homecoming’s grand marshal.

The grand marshal serves as a role model for students, and their achievements and contributions are celebrated throughout the homecoming festivities. Some of these festivities include leading the homecoming parade and being recognized on the football field as part of the halftime show during the game, Smith said. 

According to Smith, all grand marshals must be graduates of the Twin Cities campus, be recognized for excellence in their personal industries and should represent the diversity of the alumni body. 

“We like to tie the grand marshal recognition to what’s happening in our world, somebody who’s addressing and leading on a timely issue,” Smith said. 

Coates is a leading figure in the media and represents an aspirational role model for students, according to Smith, adding she “seemed like a natural selection.”

According to Smith, the grand marshal has a full week itinerary. On Thursday night, Coates was recognized and participated in the Alumni Awards Affair, an event hosted by the UMAA that honors 15 alumni from around the world with the Alumni Service Award and a series of other awards. 

Some other festivities on Coates’ itinerary included attending Ski U Mania , the official homecoming pregame party of the UMAA, and the Black Alumni Network tailgate, Smith said. 

Coates said she is a part of the Law School’s Board of Advisors, and she attended some of those meetings as well.

Primarily raised in Minnesota, Coates said she grew up going to the University for different sporting events. 

“My time at the U really prepared me for both a traditional and non-traditional career path,” Coates said. “Traditional in the sense that I always felt extremely capable at a law firm, but I also felt extremely capable being able to pivot with the skill set that was honed in at the University of Minnesota’s Law School.”

Coates said one of her favorite activities at the University was “moot court.” Moot courts at the University give training and oral advocacy by providing students with mock problems involving current real-world issues. Students then argue the cases to appellate courts using the processes of real lawyers. 

“There are moments when I’m on air, and I’m recalling the arguments I made in moot and feeling like I know this is right because I remember moot court,” Coates said. 

Coates emphasized how honorable it was to be selected for the position of grand marshal at a school that meant so much to her career.

“I want people to think about the University of Minnesota as a place where they can get a first-rate education, where the community is as invested in the success of its students as the students feel invested in the community,” Coates said.

Coates hopes to continue on the legacy of those who are civil rights-minded in practicing law and recognize there is a lot of work yet to be done. 

“I am a really big advocate that people should feel that it is encouraged to pivot toward their dreams, and I hope that’s the legacy of the University of Minnesota’s Law School and the University of Minnesota,” Coates said. 

Kevin Washburn, one of Coates’ former professors at the University’s Law School, said Coates was “the picture of absolute composure,” even as a law student in her twenties. 

Washburn is now the dean of the University of Iowa College of Law. 

“I think there are a lot of great lawyers out there, but there are a comparatively small number that can make the career transition she has made,” Washburn said. “She did that herself, and that takes a real kind of entrepreneurial spirit.” 

Washburn added Coates was very engaged within the Law School and had good values. 

“She was a leader and a role model,” Washburn said. “People liked her, and she was effective.”

As a message for students, Coates advises to determine and define success in each individual’s own terms.

“Embrace the things you’re passionate about and success will be inevitable,” Coates said.

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