Highlights of the Day
U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. ’83 Calls on Graduates to Serve the Public During Challenging Times
Dedicate Your Careers to the Rule of Law, Dean David M. Schizer Tells Graduates
U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. ’83 delivered the keynote address today at Columbia Law School’s graduation, encouraging the Class of 2012 to embrace public responsibility, which he described as the core of the legal profession.
Before an audience of more than 700 graduates—as well as family, friends, and faculty—Verrilli said that the happiest lawyers he knows are those who have taken up public service, and that the talents of this year’s graduating class are in great demand at this particular moment in history.
“There is no better time to serve than during a time of great challenges,” said Verrilli, who was sworn in as the country’s 46th solicitor general last June. “That time is now. And there is no better person to serve than you.”
He told students to stand up for the rule of law in everything they do and to take risks in committing themselves to causes they deem important. As an example from his own career, Verrilli cited his pro bono defense of death row inmates as the work that, more than anything else, influenced his understanding of the profession and paved the way for his future in public service.
“I became better at everything I did as a lawyer because of that experience,” Verrilli said. “And I came to understand that, at its core, being an advocate means putting yourself on the line.”
David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, also challenged the Class of 2012 to embrace an ambitious vision for rewarding careers. He offered four key questions to help the graduates measure their future professional accomplishments: Do they continue to learn in their jobs; do they enjoy the company of their colleagues; whether their colleagues play by the rules; and whether they are committing their professional lives to a goal that is broader than material satisfaction.
“If you dedicate your talents and energies solely to your own comfort, you will not be fulfilled,” Schizer said. “At the end of the day, you will regret pursuing the wrong dreams.”
Schizer added that Columbia Law School has prepared the Class of 2012 to join a profession dedicated to one of humanity’s greatest achievements: the rule of law. A just and efficient legal system, he said, is the “bedrock of freedom.”
Student speakers at Thursday’s ceremony included Student Senate President Nona R. Farahnik ’12; John G. Albanese ’12, who was selected by his fellow J.D. classmates to speak at the ceremony; and Theodore Te ’12 LL.M., who delivered his speech as the representative for his fellow LL.M. graduates.
Professor Robert J. Jackson Jr., who received this year’s Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching, spoke of the importance of leadership and fearlessness in his speech to the graduates, who selected him for the annual teaching award. A prominent expert on executive compensation and corporate governance, Jackson told the Class of 2012 not to be afraid of changes in the law—though he noted that such changes should never be pursued carelessly.
“You are joining a long tradition of leaders in the law,” Jackson said. “Your colleagues, wherever you go, will look to you for guidance not only for what the law is, but what it should be. Don’t be afraid to give it to them.”
Jackson also advised the students to never stop learning—a commitment that he said has invigorated his career in private practice, academia, and public service. “The degree you’re about to receive says much more about your capacity to learn than it does about what you already know,” Jackson said. “When you come upon something new, in the law or in life, I hope you won’t respond with resistance.”