[MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC - SIR EWARD ELGAR, "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE MARCH NO. 1"]
EDUARDO PENALVER: Good afternoon. Please be seated.
President Pollack, law school faculty and administration, family and friends, members of Cornell Law School's class of 2017--
--I'm Eduardo Penalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School. Today is a very special day for our graduates. But it's also a special day for the families of our graduates, particularly for their parents who have supported them throughout their lives and right up to this day, financially, emotionally, financially.
Before we begin, I invite our graduates to take a moment to thank their parents in gratitude for everything they've done to make today possible. Please give them a round of applause.
On this Mother's Day, it's also a particularly special day for moms. And we have many mothers with us here today, in our graduating class, on our faculty, and of course, in the audience. So let's also take a moment to give a special round of applause to our mothers.
Class of 2017, you'll always have a very special place in my heart. The JD members of this class arrived at Cornell Law School just a few weeks into my first year as dean. And the three years have gone by so quickly. It seems like just yesterday that you were the ones complaining about the 3L Superlative emails.
The circle of life. We were 1Ls together, and over the past three years, we've climbed steep learning curves. At times, we've had to fake it until we could make it.
And yet, here we are three years later celebrating your successful completion of this rigorous course of study, a course of study that has prepared you well to begin your careers in law. Honed by the arduous training, your minds are now superbly equipped to grapple with that intractable legal puzzle that I first posed to you during orientation nearly three years ago. Is a burrito a sandwich?
Think about that. The legendary Cornell historian, Carl Becker, writing in 1940, a time of existential threat to our system of government insisted that the most important purpose of this university was to maintain and promote the humane and rational values, which are essential to the preservation of democratic society and to civilization as we understand it. Among those humane values that support our democratic civilization are pluralism, rational debate, and, crucially, the rule of law.
And so Cornell's founders wisely understood from the very beginning that the study of law has a vital role to play in Cornell's democracy-preserving mission. Cornell University's first president and Cornell Law School's founder, Andrew Dickson White, wanted Cornell Law School to produce exceptional lawyers, lawyers who, in his words, were "well trained, large minded, and morally based." There's never been a more urgent need for such lawyers.
You graduate in a moment of great uncertainty for our profession, for our country, and for the world, a moment in which many propositions we've previously taken for granted are once again openly questioned. Every day, it seems, we read about countries around the world turning inward, turning away from global engagement, away from pluralism, away from democracy and the rule of law. In our own society, a growing number of people of various political stripes wonder about the utility of higher education, of legal education, and even the legal profession.
Some doubt the value of diversity. They see it not as a treasure but as a source of weakness, tension, and disunion to quote one recent essay. Some ridicule the notion of international engagement. They wonder what we might possibly learn from other legal systems.
And some reject the importance of the freedom of expression and robust debate. Or they define their parameters so narrowly as to amount to the same thing. Our commitment to democratic values is being tested, seemingly, on a daily basis. But no matter how controversial these questions become in the wider society, Cornell University has already staked out a position.
Our founding motto, our aspiration to become a university where any person can find instruction in any study commits us to strive to be an academic community characterized by our pluralism and inclusiveness, as well as by our dedication to reasoned inquiry. To reject the democratic values of pluralism and rational debate would be to reject the very soul of Cornell and its Law School. The diverse mosaic that is Cornell Law School today follows naturally from the founding vision of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White who intended to create a truly modern, democratic university where the most highly prized instruction would be available to anyone regardless of sex or color.
And it remains inspiring to me that Cornell Law School's first graduating class included a man who was born a slave, George Washington Fields. And it's in keeping with Cornell's mission that today, Cornell Law School is the most diverse top law school in the country.
There's a deep connection between Cornell Law School's commitment to diversity and our excellence as a place for inquiring into the most challenging questions surrounding the nature and the content of the law. Social scientists have observed that diverse communities bring the varied perspectives and experiences of their members to bear on the problems they set out to examine. Diverse communities have fewer intellectual blind spots. They're less prone to making unfounded assumptions.
But without proper care, diverse communities can also collapse into discord and recrimination. Nurturing a diverse community to yield its many fruits requires effort and commitment. It demands mutual respect and forbearance. Like democracy itself, collegiality amidst diversity is a fragile and precious thing.
We're fortunate that the diversity of Cornell Law School's students and faculty, the racial and gender diversity but also the diversity of opinion and life experience, is matched by our commitment to respectful engagement across our differences. I'll give you a short election year example. This past fall, Cornell's College Republicans grappled with the question whether to endorse Donald Trump in his campaign for president. After debating the issue among themselves, they ultimately opted, for the first time in their history, to endorse someone other than the Republican nominee.
They endorsed Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate. In explaining their refusal to endorse Donald Trump, the Cornell College Republicans pointed towards his divisive rhetoric, their own diversity, and their desire, in their words, "to stand on the right side of history." The New York Confederation of College Republicans quickly expelled its Cornell chapter. It did so even though nothing in the group's constitution required campus chapters to endorse the party's nominee.
Now it turns out that the president of the Cornell College Republicans, Olivia Corn, is the daughter of two Cornell Law School graduates, Ruthanne Kurtyka and Harvey Corn, both members of the class of 1973. And like their daughter, they are lifelong Republicans. When Harvey and Ruthanne learned what had happened to their daughter's organization, they did what any self-respecting Cornell lawyers would do. They turned to another Cornell lawyer for help.
In this case, they reached out to their friend and fellow Cornellian, Ron Kuby, Cornell Law School class of 1983. If you've heard of Ron Kuby, then you know that his political views are somewhat to the left of the Cornell College Republicans. Come to think of it, his views may be somewhat to the left of the Cornell Democrats. He's also the lawyer of choice of the dude, Jeff Lebowski.
Now how is it that these conservative graduates of Cornell Law School chose to turn to Ron Kuby, dude's lawyer, to help their daughter? I asked Olivia's father, Harvey, and here's what he said. Many years ago, early in his career, Ron Kuby was representing himself in a business dispute involving the estate of his former law partner, Bill Kunstler, who had passed away.
He quickly realized, Harvey told me, that any attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client. And Harvey continued, I did not know Ron before this litigation, but he found me. At that time, Ron was not as famous or wealthy as he is now. But because of our Cornell connection, my firm represented him for little or no fee.
We became friends, Harvey said, notwithstanding our profound philosophical differences. When the Cornell Republicans needed someone to represent them, I thought he would be perfect because of his lifetime commitment to civil liberties and free speech. Kuby took up Olivia's case with enthusiasm on a pro bono basis. And after some sternly worded letters back and forth and, I'll admit, the threat of litigation, the Confederation ultimately capitulated, reinstated its Cornell chapter, and parted ways with its own chairman who allegedly had orchestrated the chapter ouster.
This simple story of a liberal Cornell lawyer helping the daughter of his friend, a conservative Cornell lawyer, to vindicate their legal rights reflects something profound about this community. Cornell is a law school where people learn to respect and care for one another despite our disagreements. It's also a school that's committed to the respect for the rule of law, even in the service of those with whom we disagree.
The Cornell Law School is a strong and tightly knit family. That's not to say that we're perfect or that we always get along. But our bonds to one another are ultimately stronger than our differences and our mistakes. And those bonds are the reason that the imprint of your time in Ithaca will remain with you long beyond this important day just as it has for Olivia's parents and for Ron Kuby.
The relationships you've formed here will continue to pull you together over the course of your careers and your lives. And these relationships are rooted in our shared commitment to respectful engagement, even in the face of disagreement about important issues, issues that we all care about deeply. It's this shared commitment that gives Cornell lawyers their trademark collegiality and decency.
On Giving Day, this past spring-- which, by the way, the class of 2017 won-- we rolled out a meme calling lawyers superheroes. We were a little worried that it would come off as a little bit hokey. Let's be honest. Lawyers are not used to thinking of ourselves as heroes.
Doctors, definitely. Doctors think of themselves as heroes every day. One of my younger brothers is a doctor. And when he was a young medical resident in New York City, he used to wear a t-shirt that said, trust me. I'm a doctor.
And he would tell me that he would wear this t-shirt. And he said people on the subway would smile at him, and women would flirt with him. And I used to wonder what would happen if he wore a t-shirt that said, trust me. I'm a lawyer. Nothing good, I assumed. Nothing good.
But then this past January, I saw photographs of lawyers walking around airports with signs that said, I'm a lawyer, and I'm here of help. No one threw anything. In fact, people brought them free food. At the San Francisco Airport, a crowd actually chanted, let the lawyers in. Whoa.
Our democratic society needs lawyers. It needs conservative lawyers like Olivia's parents. It needs liberal lawyers like Ron Kuby, united by their commitment to being large-minded, morally-based heroic defenders of the rule of law. And so I'll finish where I started, reiterating Carl Becker's hope that Cornell's graduates would defend the humane and rational values that underlie our democratic society and that they will be sustainers of the rule of law.
At Cornell, you've acquired the necessary tools to do so. I'm confident that you're equal to the task and will rise to meet the challenges of our own time. I could not be more proud to call you Cornell lawyers. Class of 2017, congratulations.
It's now my honor and privilege to introduce to you the president of Cornell University, Martha Pollack. President Pollack was named Cornell's 14th president in November of 2016. Before becoming the president of Cornell, she served for several years as the provost at the University of Michigan.
Her background is in computer science and, more specifically, in the study of artificial intelligence and natural language processing. She was an undergraduate at Dartmouth and earned her doctorate in Computer and Information Science from the University of Pennsylvania. She's received numerous academic awards both for her research and for her tireless efforts on behalf of women and people of color in the STEM fields.
She assumed her duties as Cornell's president just last month. And in my interactions with her since her selection in November, I've come away deeply impressed by her respect for lawyers, for the practice of law, and for the work of the law school. And her presence here today at our convocation, which is really her first official act as president so soon after her arrival on campus, is a testament to that respect. So please join me in welcoming Cornell's new president, Martha Pollack.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you, Dean Penalver. And congratulations to the Cornell Law School class of 2017. Whether you're earning a JD, a JSD, or an LLM, we are all very, very proud of you. I also want to give a shout out to the 12 students enrolled in the inaugural Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship LLL Program at Cornell Tech. Although they couldn't join us today, they are pioneers in this exciting new program. And they're earning degrees as members of your class, the class of 2017.
Being a really new Cornell president-- as Dean Penalver said, I've only been here a month-- I have not had the opportunity to get to meet many of you. But I have heard that this class won the Cornell Giving Day Campaign in March for the most gifts from graduates in any of Cornell's schools or colleges. So congratulations, and thank you.
People have been asking me, what are you surprised at? What's really struck you about Cornell? And one thing that has really struck me is the very strong affinity that Cornellians have for the university and for each other from the time they're students right through their entire lives as alumni. I hope you'll look back on today as an important milestone in a long and warm relationship with your classmates and with Cornell and that I'll get to know you-- although I haven't had a chance to while you're students-- as alumni of Cornell Law.
When I was asked to speak at this convocation, I did what many people in my position might do. I went back and re-watched The Paper Chase. Now I don't know how many of you have watched The Paper Chase. I bet most of the parents have seen The Paper Chase.
It's a classic movie from the 1970s about life in law school. And arguably, the most memorable character in it is a brilliant, demanding, and curmudgeonly contracts professor, Charles Kingsfield Jr., whose use of the Socratic method is as brutal as it is effective. I will not ask whether there were faculty here who model themselves after Professor Kingsfield.
At one point, Professor Kingsfield tells his 1L students this, quote, "You teach yourself the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush. You leave here thinking like a lawyer."
The law professors that I've known have been as brilliant as Professor Kingsfield but much more affable. Still, law school is one of the most demanding courses of study you can pursue. And thinking like a lawyer remains one of the most important benefits of a legal education, no matter where your professional journey takes you after you leave Cornell.
A Cornell Law School tradition, education though, is rooted in another tradition, one that goes beyond just thinking like a lawyer and one that your dean has already highlighted. A Cornell Law School education is rooted in the hope that you will use your hard-won skills not only for professional success but also in service of the greater good. Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White, aspired to create, within the university, a program of legal training in which, quote, "legality shall not crush humanity." Legality shall not crush humanity.
In the spirit of that, generations of Cornell Law Alumni have become successful lawyers while also providing distinguished service to the nation and the world. To give just one example from a bygone era, Arthur Dean, Cornell Law class of 1923, spent much of his career at the international law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. At critical times, though, he stepped away from his responsibilities with the firm to serve as a negotiator and adviser to US presidents, working with Eisenhower on negotiations with North Korea and China just after the Korean War, with Kennedy on a partial nuclear test ban treaty, and with Johnson during the Vietnam War. And he still found time to serve for an entire decade as chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees.
Whether you end up specializing in contract law like the fictional Professor Kingsfield or advise US presidents like Arthur Dean or represent clients in court or find a career in business or government, perhaps taking on big issues like human rights or international trade or environmental regulation, whatever you choose, the ability to think like a lawyer while being motivated by service to your profession and to the world will continue to serve you well. As the newest graduates of the Cornell Law School, you're part of a wonderful continuum of excellence. Today, we are proud to celebrate your success knowing in the words, again, of Andrew Dickson White that you will, quote-- not just become a superhero, but here's the quote. "Become a blessing to the country, a blessing, at the bar, on the bench, and in various public bodies."
Congratulations, Cornell class of 2017 Law School. We are looking forward to all you will achieve. Thank you.
Thank Thank you, President Pollack. As is our custom, we'll be hearing today from two of our graduates, both of them elected by their peers to speak with us today. One represents the Juris Doctor class. And the second represents our Master of Laws Program. Speaking first will be our JD graduate, Victor Pinedo.
Victor is a graduate of Washington University's Olin Business School. During his time here at Cornell, he has served as managing editor of the Cornell Law Review, associate writer for The Legal Information Institute's Supreme Court Bulletin, a member of moot court, and as the Latino American Law Student Association's career services liaison.
Victor plans to join Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York this fall as an associate and will clerk for the Honorable Nelson Roman in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in the fall of 2019. Please join me in welcoming Victor Pinedo.
VICTOR PINEDO: Thank you, Dean Penalver. And congratulations, class of 2017.
You all are looking good. Red is truly a flattering color. Also, congratulations to the many families and friends here today who have supported us from day one. Thank you for all your support, your love, and your encouragement. We would not be here without you.
And go ahead, take a look around. Before you today is a group of students, three years older, a few years wiser, and only just the slightest of gray hairs. Sure, some of us may take a little more space in our chairs, but we are still the same students that you likely had to comfort in the middle of the night after a particularly hard exam.
All joking aside, today is a special moment. Whether you're sitting happy at the top of the class, or like me, are just happy to have a diploma, we are taking a step forward in our lives and our careers. Law school, in many ways, has been a collection of steps, some big and some small.
Think back to your first BHS cold call, your first memo week, and your first time being judged, literally and figuratively, during moot court. In fact, just the other day, I was thinking about my first steps here. Heart rate high. Palms are sweaty. Knees weak. Arms are heavy.
I was nervous. They were not joking about those Ithaca hills. With all these big steps, it's no wonder that so many of you invested in a Fitbit at your time here.
Each steps forward have taken us down many winding paths. And those paths have not always been easy. At its toughest moments, law school was an experience that caused immense stress. And the journey to this moment was certainly not without its own surprises.
I am, to this day, for example, still shocked that we have a whole section on maritime law in our Civil Procedure Rulebooks, a fact that I would rather not have learned during Professor Clermont's 1L spring final.
At every corner, we were confronted with these challenges. Will we be able to nail Professor Heise's complex multi-part tort hypothetical and then flip it? Will we be able to balance keeping up with our readings, outlining for every class, participating in all of the clubs, and neurotically freaking out about [INAUDIBLE] dilemma all while handing in a meticulously edited memo free of any passive voice? Would it actually be possible to do less work with better results?
And most importantly, will we find true love in Moonies? These questions came up fast and quick, often without a warning. My very first cold call with Professor Dorf is a perfect example. Our assigned case was Employment Division v. Smith, a religious freedom case that many law students will be familiar with.
I came class ready for any question Professor Dorf had. Need the facts? You got it. Want the holding? No problem.
Just as predicted, I was called on. Nothing could bring me down. Or so I thought.
As I painfully learned, Professor Dorf likes to go off the beaten path. So imagine my shock when the first words out of his mouth were, Victor, told me about Yoder.
I panicked. Yoder? That wasn't in the reading. What's Yoder? The Jedi master?
Of course, had a carefully read the assigned case, I would have noticed a glaring citation to the infamous Yoder case. The devil was truly in the details. And as you can imagine, that cold call went just as you would expect.
The lesson I learned was a familiar one to all of us. This law school thing would be no cakewalk. Whether our experience was good or bad, we needed to quickly learn from our mistakes and be ready to take on the next big challenge with a critical and unique approach.
My cold call story is neither uncommon nor unique. Despite all the different paths we took in law school, we've all had to overcome those moments of self-doubt and panic, questioning whether we even belonged here. But no matter how tough it got, we didn't give up. And it's the commonality of our experiences that made sure that we were actually in this journey together.
As we moved forward with our goals, we knew that if we put our all into this thing, into this experience and stood firm in the face of adversity, we could emerge from this law school journey is not only lawyers in the best sense but as stronger citizens of the world. And we did just that. Today's a capstone on what has been a challenging but rewarding journey. And each one of you has contributed something truly special to it.
In and out of the classroom, you've created engaging discourse and conversation, even if some of your hypotheticals and questions could be characterized as out there. You've immersed yourselves, sometimes almost a little too much, into extracurriculars like journals, clubs, moot courts, and mock trial, often dropping your plans at a moment's notice to support your friends and colleagues. You've devoted unquantifiable amounts of time to put on professional boot camps to help young 1Ls prepare for being able to make sense of this thing called getting a job out of law school.
And through your clinic work, you've been able to accomplish incredible feats from researching complex tax questions to working on habeas positions to save another person's life. That is what has made-- the work is often without thanks and always at the sacrifice of time that we almost definitely needed. And that is what has made our accomplishments so impressive.
It shows that when we put our hearts into it, we really can impact the world around us in a meaningful and exciting way. But why stop there? In the running community, there is a quote by famous Olympian distance runner, Steve Prefontaine. "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."
This degree and the many steps that we have taken to get to it is a gift. It is a gift made possible by the sacrifice of others, family, friends, mentors, professors, loved ones, and even mere acquaintances. It is their support, their encouragement, and their sacrifice that has allowed you-- allowed us to be here today. No matter where you start your practice of law, be sure to impart this gift onto others.
When we leave Newman Arena today, we step back into a rapidly changing world, no longer shielded by the comforting walls of Myron Taylor High School. Now more than ever, our skills and knowledge are needed. Be someone who advocates for the causes you believe in and improves the lives of others, no matter how big or small.
Be a mentor to others in your life and help them to achieve the same successes you've had. Inspire others to push themselves so that they too can give back. Just like our successes have been fueled by the support behind us, the strength of our communities is bolstered by our willingness to be selfless.
I have no doubt that all of us in here today are ready to step up to that challenge. It is not a matter of if, but when and where. Your strength, passion, and commitment has gotten you here today. And I am confident that you will all continue to do great things with that same level of excellence.
We have an amazing opportunity before us. Now lets take that next step and take advantage of it. To do anything less would be a sacrifice the gift. Class of 2017, congratulations.
EDUARDO PENALVER: Thank you, Victor. It is now my pleasure to introduce our LLM speaker, Winnie Awino. Winnie obtained her LLB from Makerere University in Uganda. And she also earned a postgraduate diploma in legal practice from the Law Development Center and another postgraduate diploma in Tax and Revenue Administration from the East African School of Taxation.
One of our Institute for African Development scholars, she has served as the Black Law Student Association's LLM representative and was named best buyer's counsel in our annual Transactional Lawyering Competition this year. She's admitted to the bar in Uganda and upon graduation, looks forward to returning home to her family, especially her two little boys who could not be here with us here today but I understand were allowed to stay up late and watch us on the Livestream. Please turn around and give them a wave to the camera.
Back in Uganda, she will practice law with Sebalu & Lule Advocates DLA Piper Africa. Please join me in welcoming Winnie Awino.
WINNIE AWINO: Thank you, everybody. When I heard Dean Penalver speaking, I almost thought he had stolen my speech. But given that I printed this speech this morning, I guess the themes are basically the same. So I guess great minds think alike.
Before I get into the speech, I just want to reflect on two interesting things that I feel that we shared as an LLM class. The first was the cocktail of languages and accents. In addition to all the credits we took, every masters of law student sitting here today had an additional unlisted, ungraded, uncredited free course in learning how to speak in a different accent.
On top of the intense Introduction to American Studies class, our first two weeks of classes were also spent training our ears to hear different accents and molding our speech in order to be clearly understood. It's funny. Someone even told me that I have a strong African accent. And I'm yet to comprehend what that means because in case you're wondering, I'm from Uganda. There's no country called Africa.
The second is probably everybody's favorite, including the JD students, the free food. If there's any graduating student sitting here who can honestly say that they never attended a single event for the free food, I must say I'm sorry. And you have to reapply because part of your Cornell education entitles you to free food.
I remember distinctly the words of encouragement from an old student before I joined Cornell. She told me to worry about everything else but the food. She said it was always in plenty, and it was free. So yes, many of us spent half the time worrying about other things. But the food-- as the helpful food will be served or free food in the kitchen emails were always bound to be sent through the week.
Looking back at the year, it feels like just a few days ago when we walked into the commons at Myron Taylor Hall for our welcome breakfast unsure of what the future held. We left behind our children, our spouses, our jobs, our families, and many of our commitments important to us. And we launched into the deep.
Many of us spent the next few weeks always looking at the GPS on our phones trying to find our way into the next class. As time went by, we slowly found our direction, in our classmates, in our friends, inside and beyond the law school. Long-lasting friendships were made, and synergies were created, deeper bonds established.
I was even able to adopt two additional children. So yes, Nick and Graham, today's Mother's Day. I expect some gifts.
Over the course of the year, many of the fears we carried with us to Cornell have been conquered and some of our dreams achieved, today being no exception. Congratulations, class of 2017. For a number of us, we may not be in a better place, as uncertainty as to the next thing in life still lurks in the corners of our minds and remains hidden behind our smiley faces.
But to this, I say, do not despair. Take a step back, and reset. And then march. Look outside into the world. Explore. Take risks if you must.
But above all, have faith in yourself. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you do not see the whole staircase." May you always believe in yourselves. And like Nelson Mandela said, "May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears."
For those of us who may not have felt welcome as LLM students at any time during the course or may have had difficulty fitting in for one reason or another, I say, keep your head up. You may not always fit in everywhere you go. But that should not affect you as a person or what you aspire to be.
Overlook the divisions. Welcome and treat all as the same, always remembering that none is greater than all of us. Many of us LLM students throughout the university and beyond experience great uncertainty and anxiety over our stay during the period before and leading and after the US presidential elections. Indeed, some felt unwelcome and rejected in a country they admired and chose to help them to achieve their dreams.
I say we were blessed to be in the US at this critical time because no matter whichever side of the coin you found yourself, many of us drew great lessons in the school of life and, indeed, opened our eyes to a world of possibilities or impossibilities. But because of our togetherness, resilience, and dedication to encourage and support each other as a class, we made it to this day. And I dare say we have survived the storm.
There's a Swahili saying that unity is strength, and division is weakness. And I am proud of the LLM class for the solidarity and unity you exhibited throughout the year. No doubt, we have had incredible support through the year. I take this opportunity to thank the faculty represented here, both academic and nonacademic, for your guidance and support.
I thank each family. And when I say family, I mean our close friends, our relatives, our acquaintances that are represented here today. On behalf of the LLM class, I want to thank each of you for the support you [INAUDIBLE] to us financially-- and I will repeat what Dean P. said-- financially or materially or even simply for your sacrifice of time.
For those kind words, for taking our numerous calls, for calming our fears, and for being our voice of reason, we thank you. I would like to send a special shout out to my family back home, especially my two little boys somewhere in [INAUDIBLE], who like many of our parents seated here today were braver than most of us and enabled us to come to Cornell and do what brought us here. We thank God for his favor upon our lives and for thus far we have come.
As I bring this to a close, I pray that each one of us will always remember the following values, which I have learned from my Sebalu & Lule family in Kampala. And of course, I have tried to make it more relevant for the class graduating today. And the theme is RICE.
So no, it's not biryani rice that I'm talking about. The RICE is an acronym for important principles that I have come to love and live by. Firstly, is the R. Be reliable. Nobody wants a person who will always have an excuse or be a disappointment.
This does not mean you will not make mistakes. By all means, make mistakes. But learn from them. Remember that the people around you, whether it's the family you choose or your workmates or your clans, will always be depending on you.
Secondly, have integrity. That's the I. Your reputation is one of the most important things you can build. You can spend your whole life building your reputation, and it can be taken away in the quickest of moments. The stress that comes with shortcuts is unnecessary, so always remember to be a person of integrity. Your morals and ethics should guide your decisions.
Thirdly, be credible. I mean, there's a lot of fake news going around. But take the time. Be truthful.
If you are not sure about a thing, ask. Be informed. Read a book, and give some advice when it is needed. At all costs, avoid being caught up in the fake news.
And lastly, but not least, strive for excellence. Because I believe that is what Cornell represents. As we step out into the world, may each one of us be aware of our surroundings. The LLM class has been a wonderful mix of cultures, and we have been able to get along and bond with each other because of mutual respect.
There's a popular saying among the people of my tribe. I am [INAUDIBLE] from Uganda. [NON-ENGLISH] Simply translated, that means respect is knowledge.
So I implore you to respect yourself and to respect those around you without distinction as to sex, as to race, as to color, as to political affiliation, or whatever unnecessary divisions the world unfairly forces on us. We are all human, and that's all there should be.
Respecting the day that today is, I would like to say Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers represented here today. And I'd also like to extend my sincere gratitude to my class. They said they voted me because they thought I was funny, and I would speak for them. Guys, I finished all the jokes throughout the semester.
I wish the graduating class of 2017 all the happiness and success in the world. Onwards and upwards to the 2017 fresh out of the gorges new release of lawyers in the best sense. I came hoping to drop the mic. But they must have heard, and they fixed the mic to the stand.
I thank you.
EDUARDO PENALVER: Thank you, Winnie. As with our students speakers, our faculty speaker is traditionally elected by our graduates. And it is now my great pleasure to introduce this year's faculty speaker, Professor Sheri Johnson. Professor Johnson is an expert on the interface of race and issues of criminal justice and procedure. She's an assistant director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, an initiative that fosters empirical scholarship on the death penalty, offers students an opportunity to work on death penalty cases, and provides information and assistance to death penalty lawyers around the world.
After her graduation from Yale Law School in 1979, Professor Johnson worked for the New York Legal Aid Society and then joined the Cornell Law School faculty in 1981. She co-founded the Cornell Death Penalty Project in 1993. Professor Johnson teaches Constitutional and Criminal Law and supervises the Post-Conviction Litigation and Capital Trial Clinics. Please join me in welcoming Professor Sheri Johnson.
SHERI JOHNSON: Today is both graduation day and Mother's Day. As a teacher, today is both a happy, congratulatory send-off and a bittersweet letting go, a combination that made me think about how I feel as a mother when my kids go out the door. And I have nine of them, so that's pretty often.
Almost all of you have heard your mother call, as you tried to leave the house, a sentence that started with, don't forget. And depending on the age you were at that time, that sentence might end, your homework or to call me when you get there or to drive carefully. So as you all are metaphorically heading out the door, let me offer three don't forgets for the road.
First-- and I think most parents will nod their heads to this one-- don't forget who you are. Yes. You are a lawyer now. Most of you will either be making a lot of money or having a lot of responsibility. But you were a good person, a kind person, a generous person before you were a lawyer.
You have to hold onto that because the research shows that when people get power, they are more likely to be rule breaking and less likely to be empathetic. So don't sleep with your clients. Don't steal their money.
Don't suborn perjury. Don't conceal securities law violations. And don't help your clients trash the environment. But more than that.
More than that, be considerate of your administrative assistant and the mail room attendant. And remember to give them credit for their contributions to your work. And when someone tells a joke, makes a decision, or enacts a policy that is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or just hardhearted, speak up. As Martin Luther King said--
--"We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." so that's the first one. Don't forget who you are, or as my parents used to say as I headed out the door, don't forget you are a Johnson. So don't forget you are Samantha Elliott, the college student who volunteered in an orphanage, because that would be a terrible loss to the world. Don't forget you are [INAUDIBLE] and that you said in your admissions application what matters most is how you walk through fire. To each and every one of you, don't forget who you are.
Second, don't forget where you came from. So go home for Ramadan. Or share the bitter herbs of Passover. Or put ashes on your head at the beginning of Lent, or sing in a gospel choir. Or blast country music from your car radio, or whatever.
The law and the world will be better for the variety. A really great team is not great because all of its members are the same. But as Victor Leung wrote in his admissions statement, it's only in bringing together differences and encouraging each other's individual contributions that we are able to create.
However, remembering where you came from is more than just holding on to the qualities and quirks that make up your identity. It is also remembering the community you came from and the debt you owe because you came from it. If you came from a community that struggles, remember to give back to it. Yes, you are talented and hardworking. But there are others, also talented and hardworking, who are left behind.
With the power of your law degree, you can turn around and offer a hand. Sean [? Masuka, ?] remember the little boy you were in Zimbabwe. And when you think of how very, very far you have come, remember those who still have far to travel. [? Merrit ?] Steel, remember the Cherokee language you worked so hard to learn to write and the people who speak it.
To all of you who have come a very long way, my special congratulations. I think of Wendy [? Dolsey, ?] our alum who went to work for an organization that combats violence against Haitian women. Of Naomi Terr who works for the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program. Of Andrianne Payson, a partner at DLA Piper who also does project finance work in Ghana.
Or to change the subject only a little, I think of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the gold and bronze medalists at the 1968 Olympics. Theirs were the famous raised fist black power salute for which they were widely excoriated. At the height of their athletic careers, they remembered where they came from and risked their own achievements by raising their fists, thereby calling attention to the wrongs done to their community.
Lawyering is not so different from everything else. Being a rebellious athlete, an athlete true to his or her origins, is not so different from being a rebellious, authentic lawyer. Now some of you may be thinking, well, I am off the hook on this one. Because I did not come from a place of struggle. Wrong.
For those who came from privilege, the other third of the story of the raised fist salute is instructive. Peter Norman was the silver medalist who appears, often unnoticed, in the famous photograph of Carlos and Smith on the winners platform. Norman, who was white, silently joined their protests by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, a quiet rebellion that cost him his entire athletic career in then apartheid Australia and also brought about a lifelong friendship with Carlos and Smith.
You think that Norman exemplifies an admirable combination of solidarity and humility. He asked what he could do that might help, and then he did as he was asked. There's a life-size statue of Carlos and Smith at San Jose State University. Peter Norman, initially, was supposed to be represented in that statue but asked that his position be left empty so that people who came to see the statue could step up and stand in his place.
If you did not come from a place of hardship, try to stand in Peter Norman's shoes. Nate Smith, I know you can stand in Peter Norman's shoes. But whichever side of privilege you grew up on, whichever side of whatever apartheid is relevant, don't forget where you came from.
And third, don't forget why you went to law school. Why go to law school? Law is an interesting craft. We, the faculty, remember when you started. And we have joked about things you said.
You have learned so much of the craft of lawyers in your time at Cornell. All of you should be proud as we are proud of you. In addition to being a craft, law is also a career. We wish all of you long and successful careers.
Law gives you a livelihood, interesting work, respect. It's a career for a lifetime, one that continues to change and grow. But law is more than a craft and more than a career. It is a calling.
Most of you went to law school because you believed that justice matters and that law can make the world a more just place because you were called to serve justice. To quote Martin Luther King again, "The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice." You came to law school because you wanted to help bend the arc.
Your belief in justice, your motivation for going to law school probably has a particular focus. As for me, I went to law school believing that the criminal justice system was racially biased and wanting to be a lawyer who worked to change it. That interest brought me to work on death penalty cases where I found a second passion, working to save the lives of the thrown away, criminal defendants who by and large had both done terrible things and had terrible things done to them.
Let me tell you very briefly of one case that combines both of those passions. Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas grew up on a toxic waste dump in Mexico. He ate from the garbage, lived in a house of cardboard frequented by rodents, was beaten by both of his parents, and had such limited intelligence that he was skipped out of school in the third grade.
And he murdered a man. A person who commits murder but is intellectually disabled can be convicted but is exempt from the death penalty. Ramiro's IQ was in the 60s. He could not count change, cook food safely, write coherently, or travel alone.
But the state of Texas claimed that he was nonetheless not intellectually disabled because he was Mexican and that those extreme impairments were normal for Mexicans. Yes, normal for Mexicans. That is, if a white man had the same limitations and scores, he could not be executed. But because Ramiro was Mexican, he could be. And he was.
I was the lawyer at Ramiro's execution. He was remorseful. He was also a child in a man's body.
I have represented many clients, but Ramiro's case was the most blatantly lawless and blatantly discriminatory. After his death and a period of professional despair, I realized that what I could do and had to do was protest, to tell his story to as many people as I possibly could. This is likely the biggest audience I will ever have. And I thank you for that.
And when you lose, as you will sometimes, don't despair. Mario Roque, remember why you came to law school. And as you said in your admissions application, don't doubt your resolve or ability to persevere. I hope that some of you will share my particular passion for racial justice and my passion against the death penalty. But even more, I hope that you will honor your own passion for justice.
Casey [? Oriana, ?] remember that you said you wanted to go to law school to serve as an advocate for the underprivileged and the powerless. I ask all of you to remember why you went to law school and before you are done as a lawyer to bend the long moral arc of the universe just a little closer to justice. And one more thing. Drive carefully.
EDUARDO PENALVER: Thank you, Professor Johnson. As impressive as all of our speakers have been this afternoon, we now come to what I suspect will be the highlight for most of you, the formal recognition of our graduates. At this time, I will turn the proceedings over to our Dean of Students, Markeisha Miner.
MARKEISHA MINER: Thank you, Dean Penalver. Graduates, you will be ushered to the stage by degree category. We begin this afternoon with our candidate for the degree of Doctor of the Science of Law.
The following are the candidates for the degree of Juris Doctor and Master [INAUDIBLE].
And following are the candidates for the degree of Juris Doctor.
Cornell Law School class of 2017, congratulations.
EDUARDO PENALVER: Thank you, Dean Miner. Congratulations to all of you. And please take your seats again. Before we conclude these proceedings, we have one more treat to enjoy. The Cornell University Chorus is an all-female student-run choral ensemble founded in 1920. It is one of the nation's outstanding women's choirs.
This afternoon, the chorus will perform two songs for us. After their first song, I ask that you please rise as they lead us in singing the alma mater. The words of the alma mater appear in your program, and I encourage you to join us in singing it.
At the conclusion of the alma mater, please remain standing while the faculty recess out of the auditorium. And then please make your way back to the law school for a reception. Due to a flood in the law school-- it was not weather related. I assure you. The pipes did not freeze.
The elevators in the main part of Myron Taylor Hall are out of service. For mobility-impaired guests, please enter through the main entrance on college avenue. And use the elevator that leads to the commons. Thank you, and please join me in welcoming the Cornell University Chorus.
CHORUS: [SINGING] I wake at night and think I hear remembered chimes. And memory brings in visions clear enchanted times. Beneath green elms with branches bowed, in springtime suns, or touching elbows in a crowd of eager ones.
Again, I'm hurrying past the towers or with the teams or spending precious idling hours in golden dreams. Oh, Cornell, of the kindly heart, the friendly hand. My love burns clear for you in distant land. Oh fates that shape the lives of men. Vouchsafe the I before I die, may tread the hill again.
Oh, Cornell, of the kindly heart, the friendly hand. My love burns clear for you in distant land. Oh, fates that shape the lives of men. Vouchsafe that I, before I die, may tread the hill again. May tread the hill again.
CHORUS: [SINGING] Far above Cayuga's waters, with its waves of blue, stands our noble alma mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, all hail Cornell.
Far above the busy humming of the bustling town, reared against the arch of heaven, looks she proudly down. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, all hail Cornell.
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Cornell Law School honored the Class of 2017 at its convocation ceremony May 14 in Newman Arena, Bartels Hall.