Dear class of 2020,
It is an honor and a privilege to have been selected by you as Potter Law Club Outstanding Faculty Member of 2020. Congratulations to you. Congratulations to your families, who were with you in spirit every step of the way. You have worked hard. And you are each deserving of the diplomas that we are about to confer on you.
Here is something that was not in my playbook last September (which feels like a long time ago): what to say at commencement as outstanding faculty member to the Class of 2020—the Centennial Class—in the midst of a world-wide pandemic after a half-semester of Zoom teaching. I suppose this is how playbooks grow.
I cannot remember who the faculty speaker was the day I graduated from law school—and I remember very little about the speech that was delivered that day. I do remember one thing, though. All the speeches I heard that day left me with a profound sense of hope and made me eager, if also a little anxious, to get started on my legal career. In my written remarks in the program, I have made a point of expressing to you the reality that during these difficult and challenging days virtually everyone I care about has remained optimistic. They all continue to ask, “What comes next.” They continue to say, Next man (or woman) up. “Next person up.” “All hands on deck.” I continue to feel that way, too. But perhaps I should tell you why I am not just talking out of my hat or blowing smoke. I really believe it.
The last time the unemployment rate was anywhere near as high as it is today I was 22 years old. I have just dated myself to those of you who know something about economic history. That year, I lost my job and could not find another one for several months. Every friend I had (we were all lower-skilled, blue collar workers) lost their jobs. Lots of people proclaimed very persuasively and frighteningly that it was the end of the world. But it was not. Ten years after that gloomy time I entered law school. And a couple of decades after that—more or less, what is a decade or two between friends?—I met you in our torts class where I peppered you with phrases like, “Somebody’s going to pay.”
The point of all of this is that there is only one sure way for you not to succeed – if you do not try. And I do not think that possibility applies to any of the College of Law Class of 2020—the Centennial Class.
I practiced law for 11 years before beginning my teaching career in this building, in this very room in fact. My parting advice to you is simple. Love your family and treat them well. Work hard—remember that no one can ever out-work you without your consent. In whatever you do, be punctual: arrive on time and meet deadlines. If you cannot be kind—and it will certainly be better if you are kind—at all events, do not be mean. Especially in the challenging days to come. I am very proud of who you are and of who you are going to be. Remember, tough times never last, but tough people do. Thank you again, and good luck.