J.D. Speaker: Dynishal P. Gross
Good afternoon to our families, our faculty, our friends, those who join us here today, and connected in cyberspace. I'm humbled to have been chosen for this honor, and will keep my comments brief.
Before law school, I read novels. I chose books to savor or devour, then shared them with others. Recently, someone asked me for a book recommendation. I searched my brain, and the best I could do was Peter Strauss' Administrative Justice in the United States. Wasn't quite what they were looking for. . .
But what law school has taken with one hand, it has given with the other. In place of the novel, I received the law review article. Putting disturbing memories of bluebooking aside, I've returned to a few inspiring articles again and again.
One of these was written by Marion Crain, and is titled The Transformation of the Professional Workforce. It considers the impacts of corporate management strategies on law and medicine and discuses the possibilities for lawyers to engage in collective action to protect the autonomy which has historically characterized our profession. Crain comments “[f]or professionals, work has historically been a calling that constitutes personal identity and confers a relatively privileged class status, rather than a commodity to be sold on the market. Professionals' work is not commodified, but constitutive; not something from which to escape, but something in which to invest.”
While the language of the article is academic, it reminded me of wisdom shared in plainer language. My brother is the baby of my family, and throughout his golden childhood, my parents, sister and I showered him with love. As he grew into adulthood, our expressions of love became necessarily defensive, because racism in America is real, and comes to bear on even the golden and beloved. We were successful, and saw him develop into a math and science whiz who entered Penn State to pursue an engineering degree. Then in 2002, danger struck from an unexpected quarter. My brother was diagnosed with a serious illness.
I was terrified by the thought of losing him, and bullied him into a radical treatment, the value of which he was unconvinced. And things got much, much worse, before he began to recover. I was wracked with guilt and uncertainty at the role I'd played in forcing him down that path.
In despair I called my grandmother, crying. She gave me a beautiful and simple piece of advice. I wrote it on a post-it, which has been pinned near my desk ever since. She said, “Baby, don't you cry and worry yourself sick. You did what you did out of love, and God gon' take care of your brother. Now, you live in the sunshine. Live in the sunshine.”
My intervention in my brother's life was an attempt to protect an investment we'd made as a family, an investment of time and love. My grandmother reminded me that it was as important, and as valid to insist on my own happiness, for my loved ones have invested as heavily and as joyfully in me. I do them a disservice when I choose to stagnate or to wallow in unhappiness.
We gather here today to celebrate our shared investment in legal education. The debt many of us carry only begins to tell the story of what this experience has cost. We have benefited from our faculty's expertise and guidance; the outlines of students who preceded us; study groups of our peers; the hugs of friends at times of high stress; the support and understanding of our loved ones. These investments are too precious to squander on jobs that waste our creativity, wastefully consume scarce legal resources and sap our very commitment to practice law. Our first professional steps may be, and certainly feel significantly constrained. But, to bastardize John Marshall, we must not forget that these are careers we are creating. We should honor our experience here at Columbia Law School by fighting to make our legal careers joyful and inspired ones.
It is my hope that decades from now, we will still be professional peers, serving as advocates, academics, jurists, honoring our investment in one another by insisting on finding the personal fulfillment and professional satisfaction that comes from service to others.
You are my friends and my inspiration. I wish you great success. And I wish you sunshine.