UCLA Law Graduation Speech


I am not what happened to me.  I am what I chose to become.”

May 7, 2010

The words of Carl Jung present us with an outlook through which to exploit the extraordinary potential of the law degrees soon to be conferred upon this stage.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends, family, classmates: May 7, 2010 marks the day our UCLA Law experience ends as students, and the day the University sends us out into the world to actualize the profound utility of our degrees. After thousands of hours of assiduous preparation, it is finally time to implement the skills we’ve accrued and principles of Justice we’ve internalized.  No longer time that we learn “to think like lawyers,” but time to act like, and be lawyers.

And not just for ourselves or our loved ones, but for millions of our fellow citizens out there — who might not be able to tell you what the First Amendment to the Constitution says, or perhaps even read it at all — but people who need good lawyers now, as much or more so than at any other time in history.

We step out into the world a bit anxious about trying times, some of us heavily burdened with debt, many of us unsure of the next step.  Nevertheless, the resources and options available to us — most of which have yet to manifest themselves — are beyond the capacity of most people on this planet to even comprehend.

Of over 200 nations on the globe, only about half are electoral democracies.[1] <#_ftn1>   Considering that nearly half the world’s population lives on just $2/day, it is likely that upward of 3 billion people would change lives with us in an instant, site unseen, no questions asked, no second thoughts.

Any apprehensions or anxieties we in Westwood may harbor are unfathomable to a vast number of people merely surviving on this planet.  You, on the other hand, as UCLA Law degree holders, are among a handful of eminently erudite professionals to graduate from a top-tier law school in the United State of America, and are certainly in quite distinguished company.

But that is not the point I’d like to make today. The message I’d like to convey is that the cachet of our Class has nothing to do with our LSAT scores, cumulative GPA, or post-graduation employment rate.  Rather, our reputation rests in how well we finish what we’ve started here.  With privilege comes responsibility, and I submit to you, that the character of our Class lies in transforming the latent potency of our diplomas.  As proud as we all feel right now, our renown lays dormant in the 400 or so diplomas soon to adorn as many walls throughout the United States and across 5 continents.  Our promise is still untapped, resting quietly in our nascent legal faculties — our ability to animate the spirit and implement the vision of the idealists who innervated our judicial system.

About 220 years ago, a bunch of wise men in wigs sweat their way through a hot Philadelphia summer, carefully crafting what has since become the longest governing Constitution on Earth – a prescient document strong enough to guide a young nation born in revolution, yet subtle enough to accommodate the demands of a 50-state federalist system two centuries later.

Yes, America is the land of opportunity, abundant natural resources, and free market ingenuity. But the truth is that neither these ingredients, nor the values of the myriad cultures which constitute America’s proverbial melting pot, are as responsible for America’s success over the past 200 years as has been the Constitution itself — the manuscript our military and police forces swear to preserve and protect with their lives to this day.

If you are seated here in tasseled-cap and gown, then you may likewise soon be asked to swear to uphold that Constitution. The Framers avowed that they labored so conscientiously in a sincere quest to establish Justice — with a capital “J”, in order to “promote the general Welfare.”  Their mission in that sense was similar to that of the California Regents, established in 1869 with 3 cardinal commitments: teaching, research, and public service. Its mission statement propounds that California’s universities are to serve as centers of higher learning and provide long-term benefits to society through public outreach.

Thus, decades from now, whether we’re retiring as attorneys, judges, professors or politicians, our distinction will be determined by what we did with the education we’ve acquired here.  All things in perspective, the opportunities available to us — enabled by the Constitution, and coupled with our law degrees, have garnered for us — quite literally, the capability to change the world.

Our legacy lays in how well we help corporations avert corruption, and banks forestall economic ruin.  How we fortify our vibrant democracy by presiding over and properly administering fair elections.  Our future is favorable if we as prosecutors pursue Truth over convictions, when we as defense counsel exonerate the wrongly accused, and when we as litigators and leaders relentlessly pursue racial, gender, and social justice.

I submit to you, classmates, that if you are more concerned with accumulating wealth than how you may utilize your degree to do good, then you have not learned to think like a lawyer.  If you proceed to measure your worth by hours billed, then I suggest that you have not embraced the muse that moved our Founding Fathers – nor have you ascertained the prodigious promise in your own professional prowess.

Aristotle asserted that wealth does not bring about excellence, but conversely — that excellence engenders wealth.  As cash strapped as our state and nation are, we know deep down that all the money in the world will not bring about excellence in this country, on this campus, or in those classrooms.  The earnest pursuit of excellence, however, by each and every one of us, surely will restore, and ensure that this nation remains, on a course of which we can all be proud.

In closing, I aver that pursuing Justice is not a pipedream.  It is not flowery talk for a commencement speech, but the palpable power a law degree imparts to its holders. The diploma you will soon hold in your hand — and retain for the rest of your life, has imbued you with the acumen to attain that Justice. Whether environmental or entertainment, medical or music, tort or tax law, our common denominator as counselors is that our country is hungry for the bright minds gathered here today.  I entreat you to nobly maximize the potentiality in one of the most potent diplomas on the planet.  As Einstein said, “Only morality in our actions gives beauty and dignity to our lives.”

A sincere thank you to our professors, administrators, and entire staff at UCLA Law, and a heartfelt congratulations to you, classmates.  Go out into the world and do well, but more importantly, go out and do good — to beautify and dignify the world through your lives as lawyers.   Achieving a legacy that matters will not happen by accident.  We are the Class of 2010, and we are not what happens to us.  We are what we choose to become.

Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on UCLA Law Graduation Speech