Georgetown University Law Center Welcome Assembly 2014

Georgetown University
Gaston Hall
August 29, 2014

Thank you, Dean Treanor, for your leadership at our Law Center.

It is an honor to be with all of you this afternoon. Welcome to this Hilltop. It’s really a great privilege to be able to be a part of these first days in which you are part of the Georgetown community.

I’d like to take a moment to express my gratitude to Mitch Bailin for all of his efforts on behalf of our community as our Dean of Students at Georgetown Law. And I would also like to thank Andy Cornblatt, whose work as Dean of Admissions helped to bring all of you here today. Andy is responsible for the process through which we were able to identify all of you and bring you here. You’ve been doing this for a long time for us…your great service is of incalculable value. Thank you very much.

It’s a privilege to be here with all of you—and to offer just a few words of introduction to this community.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak to you here on this campus—just a few miles from our Law Center—and to share with you some of our history, especially as it relates to the profession which you have chosen and its place within our Georgetown tradition.

It’s fitting that we meet here in Gaston Hall. This room is named for Georgetown’s very first student, William Gaston, who went on to become a lawyer and to serve his home state of North Carolina as a member of Congress.

He also served as Governor of North Carolina. Later—in a role that may be of interest to many of you—he was a justice on the state’s supreme court.

This room itself is the venue for many of the special events and extraordinary guests that we’ve have the privilege to host throughout the course of our history. This building that we’re in, Healy Hall, was completed in the same decade that we established the Law Center. In 1870, our first law students met on Pennsylvania Avenue, only four blocks from the Capitol Building—and just a short walk from today’s Law Center campus.

Today, like William Gaston… like all those who have come before you…you have made a choice.

You have chosen to study the law – a truly noble profession, one which I hope you will see not simply as a career, but as a calling, as a vocation.

Those who practice law protect and preserve our freedoms… they commit themselves to the highest ideals of equality and justice… and they seek to promote a fairer society and the common good.

In recent days, we have seen just how urgent it is that we engage this work with ever deeper passion and commitment. In Ferguson, we have seen just how much work remains to be done to address the still unfinished work if we are to realize the full promise of the American project…the American dream…the American idea1.

In this, the fiftieth year since Freedom Summer, in the fiftieth year since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, in the fiftieth year since Dr. King won the Nobel Prize, we have an opportunity to remember Dr. King’s vision and to recommit ourselves to the pursuit of justice—the commitment you have all made by choosing to study the law.

There has never been a more urgent moment than right now for us to be able to develop the talent necessary to address the challenges that define our nation in this time.

One of Dr. King’s contemporaries, Thurgood Marshall, grew up just North of Washington. He argued and won a number of high profile cases challenging segregation, including a case regarding racial discrimination in admissions at the University of Maryland’s Law School. He also argued before the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education, which led to the integration of schools in our the country…and it is 47 years [1967] ago that he was confirmed by the Senate to become the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court.

As lawyers… as advocates… this is the legacy you inherit—a legacy of leadership and scholarship…one that recognizes how we can, and must, use the law as a tool for justice.

This is the legacy you will build upon, and you have chosen to do this here at Georgetown.

You have chosen to study in a city at the crossroads of democracy… at a campus blocks away from the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court… at a law school with an extraordinary faculty who often advise those who are making, enacting, and interpreting our laws.

Today you join a community that seeks to defend the highest principles and ideals of justice and law in Washington and beyond… a community guided by our Catholic and Jesuit identity… a community that aims to serve others and advance the common good.

We were founded in a context that grounds us in a 450-year tradition of Jesuit education. The Formula of the Institute—these were the words that the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, used to provide a mission statement for this new religious order. In the concluding words to this Formula, to this mission statement, he says, “And we do all of this for the greater glory of God and the common good.”

This institution has been committed to working with that mission in mind, with that goal in mind. Our version of that—our words for capturing that—are on the wall behind me. In Latin, it reads, Ad majorem Dei gloriam, Inque hominum salutem. Those words mean explicitly, for the greater glory of God, and roughly, in the service of humankind. That commitment to the common good is a deep part of what we’re trying to do here in this community.

This is part of our heritage. This is our tradition. And we are bound together by this legacy, by our membership in this community.

By every measure, all of you in this entering class deepen the commitment to excellence that defines our community.

•One in 6.5 law school applicants across the country applies to study here;

•This year’s entering class has the highest median GPA in our Law Center’s history;

•Your class is composed of 26 teachers, 20 of who served in Teach for America, as well as 19 women and men committed to public service through AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

•Among you are 11 Fulbright Scholars, 2 Coro Fellows, and 6 Ph.D.’s;

•64 of you are the first person in your family to graduate from college.

•Your class has a number of accomplished leaders, including 12 members of the military, who have collectively earned 10 bronze stars.

•You are also studying with accomplished entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, and journalists.

You are an extraordinary group of women and men, and it is a privilege for us to have all of you here at Georgetown.

I want to thank you for, at this moment in your lives, having the faith, the trust, the confidence that this is the place for you to be able to realize your full promise and potential.

Now, I’ve spoken so far about two choices that you have already made: the first being your choice to study and pursue the law, and the second – your choice to do so here, at Georgetown.

Today, you face a third choice… that’s a choice about how to best use your talent, skills, and passions to impact our world… to address the most pressing legal issues in our time.

You will be presented with choices that lawyers and jurists have faced for generations…

Choices that defined Thurgood Marshall’s career and his pursuit to open our society to all people, regardless of the color of their skin…

Choices that continued in the 1970s with the exploration and engagement of inequalities faced by women, leading to legislation like Title IX.

We face choices today:

•As we explore the balance between our civil liberties and national security…

•As we engage questions of equal treatment of all of our citizens—again, as we have seen in recent days the need to engage the persistence and endurance of the legacy of racism and discrimination in our nation…

•As we consider the legal implications that arise from reforming our nation’s immigration system…

All of these and more…

Each moment in time brings a set of questions… questions that call and command our attention. Questions that we live. Questions that we engage.

We explore these questions and seek resolution by aligning our most deeply held values and the rule of law, and perhaps no one will bear greater responsibility in our society for this engagement than all of you.

You have answered this call.

You have chosen this path.

And today, you take the next step in your journey… a journey that has led you here… to our Law Center… to Washington… to Georgetown… at this moment in time.

We are humbled to share this journey with you.

We are hopeful for the lives that you will touch… the justice you will deliver… and the contributions—the impact—that you will make on this world in which we live.

Again it’s a privilege to have this moment to welcome all of you here, and how pleased we are that—together—we will shape this community over the course of these next few years, as each of you engage in that work of formation that will ensure you are ready for the responsibilities that will come in the course of your lives.

Thank you again for this opportunity. Welcome to Georgetown.

1 This phrase alludes to Charles P. Pierce’s work “The Limits of Everything” (Esquire, August 18, 2014) which links together “the American idea…the American dream…the American experiment.”