Graduation was a wonderful day, filled with drinks, food, kind words, and the love of friends, family, and valued professors. We gathered at the Houston Law Center to hear a guest speaker tell of the good things one can do with a law degree, and some of us had an opportunity to reflect on three years of hard work.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the dean did what deans do. He mentioned a particularly true platitude about how none of us got here alone, and on this particular afternoon, his words ringed truer than ever. Last election season was punctuated by a worthy discussion on the merits of community support versus rugged individualism. I thought then, and continue to think now, that nothing good is done without the help of a cabal of important individuals. For me, that support came in the form of family, professors, unlikely supporters, a small group of important friends, and an extended group of impressive classmates.
Though family was there at the end of the road to celebrate my graduation, the process started without much of their support. My undergraduate GPA stunk, and lingering doubts kept my family from getting behind my decision. Slowly, though, they came on board, and they've played an important role in the entire experience. I've often lamented the fact that I don't come from a particularly deep well of familial money, but I've been forced to recognize that even I have been extraordinarily lucky.
While my parents haven't been able to provide me with the safety net that many of my classmates enjoyed, they did provide me with a foundation to build upon. My mother was a teacher, and my father ran small businesses. A skilled public speaker, my dad's idea of a nice summer night is pontificating on some point of pseudo-philosophy beside the grill. From them, I learned to be curious about ideas and issues. From them, I learned to speak with confidence, and I gained an education outside of school that many disadvantaged students never gain. I learned soft skills, like how to dress for a job interview and how to introduce myself to a group of respectable business people. Money can't buy these things, but they're important to an aspiring professional. And I was lucky to receive these gifts through no effort of my own.
I've enjoyed the benefit of skilled professors. Of the handful of As I received in law school, perhaps the most predictable came in Baseball and the Law. It was also the last A that professor ever granted, as he taught that semester with bone cancer before dying shortly after the close of the semester. Unable to walk without support, he came to class for the review day, mostly because he wanted us to remember just how important Marvin Miller was to the baseball labor movement.
Professor Craig Joyce populated his lectures with obscure baseball references, and he made thinly veiled jokes to lighten the mood amongst a shark tank of first year students. A close friend of a Supreme Court justice and a respected name in the IP law world, Professor Joyce was perhaps most impressive when he allowed me to get away with impersonating him for Halloween during that first year. He's an excellent example of the sort of professor who can stimulate the mind, as he imparted important knowledge without feeling the need to belittle his students.
I've written at length on this site about Professor David Dow, the death penalty lawyer who takes time out to instruct a lucky few students who find seats in his classes. I gush with praise for Professor Dow, and it's all deserved. There's a certain perspective that goes along defending people during their last days, and he routinely brought it to a group of law students who desperately needed it. I owe to Professor Dow my passion for criminal law. He ignited it in an instant during the first week of last September.
Looking back on the experience, it's clear that we weren't hunkered down in 1960s Vietnam. But that first year certainly felt like a war against the idea of failure. I was among a group of law students who probably took things way too seriously, and I can say that I would not have survived the first year without the support of two unlikely characters. Every single day, I'd spend lunch chatting with a nice woman who made sandwiches at the resident Subway. Often unappreciated, this woman's smile was enough to turn long days a little bit shorter. Not to be forgotten, as well, is the security guard who often pulled double-duty, working well into the night. I liked to be the last person out of the building, and we'd routinely share a fist-bump on my way to the parking lot. I had a feeling at the time that he was headed for something better than 16 hours per day of security service, and I learned last month that he'll be joining the Army. Here's to your hard work paying off, wherever you may end up.
Among my classmates were some impressive characters, and I would argue that I happened into a close group of the best. To the guys who joined me in golf-course therapy, you were a shining light in an otherwise dark sea.
I found in law school that few things are as intimidating as walking into a group of 65 people and knowing that you need to beat around 60 of them to land the ideal job. This is especially true when nearly all of them hold degrees from places like Dartmouth, Texas, Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Yale. And I found those fellow students to be more than just capable opponents.
There's a certain value to spending time around smart, motivated people. Despite their type-A ticks, these individuals provide motivation and perspective. It was a diverse group of individuals, each bringing something a little different to the table. The Class of 2013 accomplished much, and I remain impressed by the challenges many of my classmates endured. Some suffered through the deaths of close friends and family. Others kept a sane outlook though their parents dealt with financial disaster or health issues. Some classmates got married, while others got dumped. Some had babies, and some raised multiple teenagers while balancing their class load. A few left to serve in Afghanistan, and quite a few worked hard defending the accused at the Harris County Public Defender's Office.
Graduation is a day where everything around you says that it's alright to pat yourself on the back. And there's certainly a place for some pride in accomplishments. But really, no accomplishments are yours alone, and there's plenty of credit to be shared when so many people play a role. The community at the UH Law Center has helped to shape me as a person, and each individual has added something that I will use in the future. They're people who've shown me that education doesn't just happen in classrooms, as there is much to be learned from the experiences and strengths of every single person you meet.