Editor’s Note: In the coming weeks, speakers around the country will dispense advice to graduating law school students at their commencement ceremonies. Big Law Business is publishing relevant excerpts and condensed speeches.
Below is U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s Commencement Speech delivered to UC Irvine School of Law graduates on May 9, 2015. It has been condensed into excerpts below.
Boxer: I love lawyers! I mean I really love lawyers. Now I know that is not the most popular thing to say in some quarters. But the good news for you is that lawyers are now three times as popular as another group I am most familiar with – Members of Congress!
Now let me explain this true love of mine. My father was a lawyer. My husband – a lawyer. My son – a lawyer. Now let me tell you: It’s bad enough to go through law school and the bar exam with one loved one. Imagine going through it with three generations!
[caption id="attachment_2287" align="alignleft” width="171"][Image “https://www.flickr.com/photos/krcla/" (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2986728965_1253b3836a_m.jpg)]Photo by Korean Resources Center (Flickr/Creative Commons)[/caption]
My husband began law school in the early 1960s, during the optimistic days following John F. Kennedy’s election. To help support him, I took a job as a secretary until I passed the stockbroker exam – I like to say that I worked his way through law school.
Many of you have loved ones who have helped to work your way through law school. What I realized in watching members of my family go through law school and take the bar is how essential it is to have that support from your family.
Now most of us have heard the famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry the 6th, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” But the context is key here. The speaker who uttered those awful words was part of an unruly mob, and they feared that the lawyers would stop them from taking over the kingdom!
Even before our country was founded, it was lawyers like Patrick Henry who were challenging the tyranny of British rule – not with weapons, but with words – in court. Think about the people who have sat in your seats throughout history… who took the same classes… who endured the same late-night studying sessions… and who used this incredibly powerful tool – the law – to change our country and to change the world for the better, and to help people seek justice.
When black students were barred from attending the same schools as white students, it was a charismatic young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and made clear that separate cannot ever be truly equal.
At a time when too many women were still forced into the back alleys, it was a 26-year old lawyer named Sarah Weddington who argued the case before the Supreme Court – and helped make Roe v. Wade the law of the land.
When environmentalists and states like ours saw the federal government doing nothing about carbon pollution, it was a whole team of lawyers who fought and won a landmark ruling that said simply: we must take action to fight the devastation of climate change.
When the government refused to grant Edie Windsor the same benefits as any other American when her partner of 44 years died, it was a lawyer named Roberta Kaplan who took her case pro bono and won a historic ruling ensuring that every married couple gets the same protections under federal law – no matter who they are, no matter who they love.
And soon, I hope and I pray, it will be lawyers who finally get the Supreme Court – and every state in America – to treat marriages between same-sex couples as equal once and for all! These courageous attorneys changed the course of our history because they refused to accept the inequality and the injustice they saw around them.
They believed deeply in those four powerful words etched into the portico of the Supreme Court: “Equal justice under law.” And they spent their careers making sure that our society lives up to that promise. Just as every generation must do.
Well, now it is your turn to focus on your passions. You began the day you enrolled here as a pioneer at this brash new upstart of a law school, the first public law school built in more than 40 years in California! You began when you started your in-depth training in areas like immigrants’ rights, domestic violence, environmental law and international justice. You began when you volunteered your time to help others, and formed student clubs to fight for the rights of women, children, refugees, and veterans!
And now the next step begins tomorrow. And I know that’s probably both exciting and terrifying!
The truth is that none of us can ever predict how our lives or careers will unfold. I can tell you that growing up in Brooklyn, I never dreamed of being a U.S. Senator. What young girl would? There was only one woman in the Senate out of 100 Senators! Now there are 20. So none of us can predict how windy or bumpy the path before us will be.
But we can decide what our North Star will be – the values that will guide our lives. Because a few decades from now, when the Class of 2050 sits in your chairs, they will hear their graduation speaker talk about the contributions you have made.
What will they say? I hope they say you used your skills to lift up the lives of others. I hope they say you worked to bring people together, but were never afraid to stand alone. I hope they say you never stopped fighting to ensure equal justice under law.
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