LL.M. Speaker: Rony Oommen John ’15
Distinguished guests, families, friends, and the wonderful Class of 2015:
I am deeply honored to represent the LL.M. class here today and to say a few words to mark the pride and glory of this momentous occasion. This class walked in gingerly into an orientation session 10 months back when the school almost intuitively figured out what we needed the most—a bag, a bottle, a mug, and a stress ball. Indeed, we had a mountain to climb, and we reached the summit today.
Our journey here began with each of us deciding one day to drop everything else that we were doing to explore another round of “law school.” When Dean Polo sent out acceptance letters, it ignited a new spark in this group of qualified lawyers across 60 countries. Amidst the excitement, we had the same challenges—shut shop, relocate, and pray really hard that we made the right decision.
Looking back, the story of these 10 months is that of an experience par excellence—interactions with the most inspirational legal minds in this country, constant innovation in research and writing, and, certainly, the magic of the “Happy Hour!” Of course, we will miss the beautiful relationships that were created here. Whether it is because lawyers everywhere have similar experiences that they can relate to, or because this class was our immediate support system, we leave school today with much more than exchanged business cards.
I will always reflect fondly at our class’ diversity. We confounded our professors and J.D. classmates with our nuanced styles of foreignness. For example, when professors made bone-chilling cold-calls in classes, our LL.M. folks began their disarming responses with “In my country!” We loved to baffle them with other gems of our own: “Do you really elect your judges?” “What do you need a grand jury for?” “Are you still a common law country if you don’t play cricket?”
But there is another thought that I want to share with you all today. Without exception, all of us have been asked why we chose to do an LL.M. “What is the cost benefit?,” they ask. As our classmate Tom suggests, LL.M. could be an acronym for “Live Life to the Most,” which I suppose we have lived up to. Many of our classmates have also admirably landed positions with top organizations here, but didn’t many of us have more reasons than a U.S. job?
My theory is that the LL.M. program characterizes our pilgrimage to this profession—to challenge ourselves to learn new things, to deliberate on new ideas and to test our versatility. Despite our professional achievements to date, we have had glass ceilings, stereotypes, and conventions restricting us. We needed this final layer of expertise to reinforce our professional goals.
Having successfully completed this pilgrimage, we must remember that our exceptionalism should not be squandered on the ordinary. We earned this privilege through our efforts and conviction. We must choose wisely about how we make a difference back home. To paraphrase a Pink Floyd song—“Would you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”
Leaving you with that thought, we also have a lot to be thankful for: to everyone at Columbia Law School—our deans, the faculty, and each of the administrative services—for making this stint here so rewarding. I am especially grateful to our J.D. colleagues for the great camaraderie, and for lessons in why there may be no wrong answers in a law school classroom. Huge thanks to our fairy godmothers, Dean Polo, Jill, Katie, Megan, and Marissa, in the Office of Graduate Legal Studies. They have seen us through bouts of nerves, panic, and sickness, and made it all go away with the line “You’ll be just fine.” We owe our degrees to their efforts.
Finally, big congratulations to the LL.M. and J.D. Class of 2015! Let us all cherish this day for our achievements, for this great institution that will remain a part of us forever, and for one last “non-pizza lunch!”