This is both an inspiring and a challenging time to come to law school. It is inspiring because the world needs you more than ever. We live in troubled times, and many of the great issues of our day are inextricably tied to law. Our financial system has foundered, and we need to respond with more effective corporate governance and wiser regulation. Innovation, competition, and free trade need to be encouraged in order for our economy to flourish. Because of the significant demands on our public sector, our tax system needs to collect revenue efficiently and fairly. Our dependence on imported fuel jeopardizes our national security, and our emission of greenhouse gases places our environment at risk. Terrorists threaten our national security,
and our responses need to be effective and faithful to our core values. Social
issues such as same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and abortion continue to
divide our society.
Each of these challenges demands the creativity and rigor of first-rate lawyers. . . . [And] an extraordinarily broad range of opportunities is open to you. We are all different, and you should take this opportunity to think expansively about what would be most fulfilling for you. I can promise you that, whatever your dream turns out to be—whether it involves public interest litigation, academia, entrepreneurship, politics, private practice, or something else—we will prepare you for leadership in any sector, anywhere in the world.
Your goals should be success and happiness, of course, but the challenge in the coming years is to define what this means for you. As you try to figure this out, keep two fundamental truths in mind. First, excellence is its own reward. You have been blessed with extraordinary ability. You should appreciate what a glorious gift that is, and you should savor it. At the same time, remember that excellence is measured in many different ways—in the pride you take in your work, in the reputation you develop among your peers, and, more importantly, in the eyes of the people you have helped. But to my mind, excellence should not be measured in dollars.
The second fundamental truth to remember is that integrity is the bedrock of any successful career. It is a great source of satisfaction to know that you have earned your successes, that you didn’t cut any corners, and that people trust you.
As for the specifics of what career choices to make, you are just beginning that journey. Most likely, there will be twists and turns along the way, many of them unplanned. . . . Indeed, if the world pushes you to take risks and move out in new directions—in part because the more familiar paths are harder to navigate than they used to be—you may find yourself even more fulfilled, and more successful, because you charted a course that was best suited to you. The bottom line, then, is that you have many exciting choices ahead of you. . . .
I want to conclude by quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Class of 1907. As Mrs. Roosevelt famously said: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift.” So I would encourage you to enjoy
your time with us at Columbia Law School, and to appreciate the remarkable
gift that we all have been given by being together at this exciting time and in this wonderful place.
Welcome to the Columbia family!