LL.M. Speaker: Chisom Chidiadi Nwokonkor
Fellow graduates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen—welcome. Attorney General Holder, we are honored to have you with us today.
I thought long and hard about what I should say up here—Dean Greenberg-Kobrin might say I spent a little too long thinking. I considered one or two rhetorical flourishes about how incredible our LL.M. year has been—too easy, too trite, too 20th century. After much deliberation, I resolved I would talk to you about the true meaning of reflected glory.
The LL.M. is that rare breed of lawyer—part practitioner, part academic. We come from all over the world. We have suspended successful careers, some of us bringing spouses and children along for the ride, all for one more year as a student, and all the free pizza Columbia Law School can provide. One more year of fighting to stay awake in Butler Library, of dying on the inside when that intelligent remark you wanted to make in class didn’t quite come out the way you planned, of being so exhausted from finals that even your eyelashes hurt. Yes, the LL.M. is a rare breed. But not just for this slightly masochistic reason. This graduating class has a particular gift: the gift of timing.
Two-thousand-nine was quite a year. The global economy was sinking, unemployment rates were skyrocketing, law firms began joylessly shedding staff. Personally, I thought it was the perfect time to quit my job, relocate, and start a master’s. Talk about expert timing.
You see the graduating class of J.D.s can be forgiven: They signed up to law school years ago, long before anyone thought it would be a remotely good idea to put the words ‘credit’ and ‘crunch’ together. But the LL.M.s, we saw it all coming. We probably had a fair idea of when the crisis would really hit, but we signed up anyway. Yes, my friends, we are the brave ones, the risk-takers, the daredevils of the legal universe. Right.
But seriously, what binds us as a community of LL.M.s really is that spirit of adventure. It’s that same spirit that helped us rescue Thanksgiving dinner from certain disaster, that led us to the unfailing joy that is the Blue Note, to Williamsburg’s fabulous Miss Favela, not to mention our adventures in Mexico. (Yes, I get it, what happened in Mexico stays in Mexico. I won’t say another word. Promise.) What I’m saying is, yes, we have worked hard, and we have really earned this degree, but we—this team we have become, this network, this graduating class—we have brought out the best in each other, and that makes us all each other’s true reward. And we get this day to bask in the reflected glory of our collective achievement.
LL.M.s: This day is a finite resource. So savor it, enjoy it, step back and admire it, hold it up to the light and marvel at it, for today is a finite resource—a jewel that represents all your yesterdays leading up to this point. The pride in the eyes of your friends, families, your professors, Dean Polo—that tells the story of our achievement far better than I ever could.
In closing, William Faulkner once wrote about a box that, when opened, “was full of stars. When I was still, they were still. When I moved, they glinted and sparkled. I hushed. The jewels glint and gleam with reflected and refracted light.”
Congratulations, Class of 2010.