According to the outgoing student senate president Sonya M. Mirbagheri, J.D., it’s a universal theme.
“Growing up in the U. S. but often visiting Iran, my parents' homeland, I have learned that despite differences in culture, politics or other deeply held beliefs, people who are seemingly so different have more in common than they realize. As a class, we rightfully celebrate our differences. We are richly diverse; we come from different walks of life, with strong and varied individual viewpoints, and many amazing talents. Our diversity is what made this educational experience so rich, but today I’d like to recognize, as we go forward on our varied paths, that we are united by this common experience.”
Many of the graduates began their legal studies when Schizer started his tenure as dean in the fall 2004. He recommended they choose a career path that leads to happiness and be prepared to follow the courageous example set by fellow Columbia Law School alumni Franklin Roosevelt, Paul Robeson and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, compelled to take controversial positions during their careers.
“Sometimes doing the right thing is lonely. Ethical short-cuts do not lead to happiness. After all, nothing ends a party like a call from the U.S. Attorney. Even if you are never caught, you have to live with the fact that you didn’t really achieve what you claim to have achieved. Sometimes sticking to your principles is hard, and this is when your character is tested.”
Keynote speaker Judge Sack has met the challenge. He writes frequently on the First Amendment; most recently contributing the dissent in a case requiring two New York Times reporters to turn over their notes about Islamic charities. Judge Sack disagreed that the government met the standards of “necessity” and “exhaustion” required to overcome any privileges that might exist.
He recounted the advice of his father’s rabbinical professor who in responding to the "truths" asserted by his young students “would snap – in English with an undetermined Eastern European accent – ‘Don't be so cock sure of yourself.’"
Judge Sack advised his audience to recognize that the truth is elusive and to be comfortable with doubt. “Judicial proceedings resolve disputes, but they do not establish truth for all time.
“Read any day’s newspaper. There is far more to fear from stagnation, the wallowing in certainty; from inhumanity fed by self-assured hatred and bigotry – than there is from doubt.”
Gabrielle G. Johnson’s, J.D., own truth has varied during her lifetime. At age eight she was in a homeless shelter. Today she welcomed graduates to celebrate their success.
“I am so very proud of all the amazing accomplishments that we have both behind us and in store. I am perhaps prouder still of convincing that little girl I was that sometimes, where you come from is not a hindrance but an invaluable shaping of the person you can one day be. It is the memories of the people who were with me in that shelter and of those who came after that serve as a reminder that not everyone will be as lucky as I have been or have the chances that I have had. So this is their day too.”
Continuing with the day’s tone, Dean Schizer advised:
Your work should feel more like an action movie than a horror movie. Letting your insides churn doesn’t help your clients or colleagues, and it will only exhaust you. The truth is time and experience will allay your anxiety.
Your spouse or partner is your most important ally, and you have to work to keep the relationship strong. If you have young children, you need to get down on the floor and play with them sometimes, even if your back hurts and a pile of work is waiting for you. Without these experiences, your family will not feel close enough to you, later on, to keep you in their lives.
An individual’s pursuit of happiness cannot succeed unless the community is also thriving. This is especially true in the legal profession.
Professor Carol Sanger, a noted leader in the field of Family Law, whom students awarded the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching, suggested that students might find satisfying careers as legal faculty.
But the calls for happiness were not limited to the older and wiser. Fresh from the classroom, Dynishal P. Gross, J.D., invited her young colleagues to adopt her grandmother's advice to assuage the guilt she felt over pressuring her very ill brother into radical treatment.
“She gave me a beautiful and simple piece of advice. I wrote it on a post-it, which has been pinned near my desk ever since. She said, "Baby, don't you cry and worry yourself sick. You did what you did out of love, and God gon' take care of your brother. Now, you live in the sunshine. Live in the sunshine."