Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect of the American Bar Association, urged the hundreds of Northeastern University School of Law graduates gathered in Matthews Arena on Thursday to think about their legacy as lawyers before their careers had even really begun.
How the budding lawyers define success for themselves, she said, will guide their careers and their lives.
“I’m urging you to ask yourselves how you’ll define your success before you even start your journeys,” she said. “Then ask yourself again and again in the months and years to come. Take the time to have an honest conversation with yourself about what will make you happy.”
Martinez, who has served in various leadership positions in the American Bar Association throughout the past 35 years of her career, will take office as the legal organization’s 143rd president in August.
“I urge you to define success not only by how much you get, but how much you give,” she said.
Martinez impressed upon the graduates that they have a responsibility as members of “one of the most noble professions” to provide access to justice for all, to protect and promote the rule of law, and to “step up, speak up, and be heard.”
She told the future lawyers that they were “entering the legal sector in a defining moment,” when the judiciary is being called upon to uphold the rule of law, and protect democratic institutions in the United States; a time when citizens are looking to lawyers to “be committed to justice, due process, and Constitutional values,” she said.
“Our finest moments,” Martinez said, “the most enduring contributions the legal profession has ever made to society, have been when our profession has used its voice and its resources for causes about which we can speak with authority and which we can impactfully influence.”
James Hackney, dean of the School of Law, praised the graduating as “leaders in a world that is looking for innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems.”
The graduates—those who received juris doctorate degrees, as well as those who received master of law and master of legal studies degrees—are well-positioned to do so, he said.
They completed more than 338,000 hours of legal work in 879 places, did co-ops in 29 U.S. states and territories, Washington, D.C., and six countries. The class devoted more than 160,000 hours to public interest co-ops, Hackney said.
“You are uniquely qualified, given your training at Northeastern University School of Law and our commitment to integrating social justice as an integral part of your education, to make a positive difference in the world,” Hackney said. “I urge you to do so regardless of your professional setting.”
Hemanth Gundavaram, a teaching professor who directs Northeastern’s Immigrant Justice Clinic with his colleague Rachel Rosenbloom, was chosen by the graduating class to deliver the faculty address Thursday.
He offered the graduates some advice for getting their dream jobs. It starts, he said, with paying attention.
“You need to realize when you’re doing something you love,” Gundavaram said. “If you haven’t found what you love yet, you will. When you do, pay attention to it.”
Getting a dream job means tuning out the critics, putting in the extra effort, being persistent, and reaching for that dream before you feel ready, he said.
Gundavaram told the graduates that when they crossed the stage, they’d be draped with a hood over their shoulders and be handed a diploma, but it represented more than that.
“What will be draped over your shoulders is responsibility, and what will be handed to you is power,” he said.
“We know in this world that the thing about responsibility is that it can be neglected, and power can be misused. I know you all know that because you watch Game of Thrones,” Gundavaram said, referring to the hit show about families of kings and queens vying for the throne. “I know you’ll be Starks and not Lannisters,” he added, comparing the graduates to the heroes of the tale, not the villains.
Three student speakers addressed their peers as well.
Siri Nelson recalled the difficulty of law school, and encouraged her classmates toward humility as they seek to change the world.
When someone told Nelson she was arrogant one day, she asked what that meant. The person explained that Nelson should expect law school to be difficult, not to be so arrogant as to think that the challenge would come easily. The moment motivated her to keep going, she said.
“Changing the world is incredibly difficult, and it would be arrogant for us to think it should be easy for us just because we’re lawyers,” Nelson said.
Richard Raya encouraged his peers to “appreciate everything that law school taught us, but not at the expense of remembering what we already knew.”
He said that as lawyers, and someday judges, it was incumbent upon him and the Class of 2019 to be brave enough to seek justice, even when it means ignoring settled law.
“If we’re going to be the lawyers that change the law and change the world, we also need to know how to change ourselves,” Raya said. “We need to step outside what’s easy to do and find what’s right to do.”
At the beginning of her address on Thursday, Emily Madden turned around and took a selfie with the sea of graduates. “Everyone here at Northeastern University has had such a huge impact on me, and I can’t wait to see the impact they’ll have on the world,” she said, adding that all it takes to make that change is “faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.”