Attorney Mark Dubois ()
I read that the best part of Harvard’s Law School’s graduation this year was Mindy Kaling’s speech which included telling the graduates that some of them were evil (it’s a statistically defensible argument), that some of them would spend their careers defending BP from seagulls (also true), that some of them would make “serious bank” (again, true) and that she wanted to marry the cutest of them (an ill-considered but clearly wise move).
One news article noted that Preet Bahrara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, “also spoke” at the commencement, but gave no details beyond that.
It’s graduation season, and the press is full of the “inspirational” talks given by visiting celebrities, award winners, big donors, big machers, honorary degree recipients and a host of others who provide entertainment for the bored graduates and their families and guests who really just want to get the diploma and get the party going. There are so many of these going on in a short period of time that some stories just include a line (or less) from each of many: “You will change the world.” “Tomorrow ou fly.” “Never before in all of humankind…”
I have never done one of these. I did used to do a talk for incoming students at UConn law school, where I warned the newbies off of academic misconduct, foolish pranks that would come back to haunt them at bar admission time and the overuse of alcohol and other self-medication regimes to handle the stress of school. After a few years, I was not asked back. One professor told me that my talk was too gloomy for new law school students. I guess law school is supposed to be a happy place where you don’t have to worry about anything except who Hadley was and why he sued Baxendale and when happy hour begins.
The last graduation I attended was when I was teaching at UConn. I have no recollection of the keynote speaker, though I do have a vivid memory of the two speeches given by the representatives of the day and evening divisions. The day school student read a poem based on Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat. Cute. I bet she wrote it during one of the endless 3L classes she had to slog through, like Law and Pasta.
The evening student gave one of the most moving talks I ever heard. You see, the graduation was a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, and some of the class were not there to graduate, as they had been called into the military. The speaker accurately predicted that this single event would change the course of the U.S. and its modern history more than anything since Pearl Harbor. If anything, he underestimated. But his talk was clearly one of the few which you remember past the second martini.
There is probably a website from which these speakers can pull quotes, inspirational phrases and a joke or two and craft such a talk in less time that it takes to order takeout. (Considering the impact, I hope they don’t spend more time than that.) In case any school (law, dental, veterrinary, chiropractic) does not yet have a commencement speaker, here is my talk. Feel free to borrow.
If you are like most of us, you went to law/dental/barber/hair braiding school either to get smart or get rich. As for the smarts part, Thomas Sowell wisely noted that it takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance. Isaac Asimov said that people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. As for the rich part, Lana Turner once memorably said that a successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend and a successful woman is one who can find such a man.
Most of your career will be spent wishing your case had better facts. Mark Twain taught that you should get your facts first, then distort them as you please. Albert Einstein taught that if the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.
Not everything will turn out as you hope. Ron White said that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade and try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party. Elbert Hubbard said do not take life too seriously, as none of us ever get out of it alive.
In closing, remember that Margaret Mead wisely taught us to appreciate that each of us is absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.
Mark Dubois, the former chief disciplinary counsel in Connecticut, is now an attorney at the New London firm of Geraghty & Bonnano. He is also president-elect of the Connecticut Bar Association. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the CBA.