From the Dean
On May 16, family, friends, and faculty gathered in Morningside Heights to celebrate Columbia Law School’s graduating Class of 2011. Prior to the commencement keynote address by United States Department of the Treasury General Counsel George W. Madison ’80, David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, welcomed the graduates and their guests. An excerpt of those remarks follows.
Great societies look to the future. They are willing to make sacrifices today in order to make the world better tomorrow. That spirit helped to create the freedom and prosperity that we now enjoy.
And we need to keep it going. You are doing exactly what you are supposed to do. You have made sacrifices to get an education. You have invested in the future, developing professional skills that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
But I worry that not enough people are doing what you are doing. I worry that the spirit of forward-looking sacrifice is waning. Too many people have bought homes that they could not afford. Too many are abusing credit cards as a way to buy things they don’t really need. And, of course, governments at all levels—all over the world—have taken on significant levels of debt.
If I walked up to a 3-year-old child who was eating a cupcake, and I took it out of her hands and popped it in my mouth, you would think I was a terrible person. (And, of course, you would be right.) Well, if we do the same thing through an organized political process, the conduct is every bit as reprehensible. Living above our means at the expense of our children is wrong. We should be thinking about how to help them, not how to live off them.
This is not a partisan issue. There is enough responsibility to go around, and I am not looking to allocate it today. Also, I don’t mean to suggest that there is only one way to solve these problems. A number of approaches to taxes and government spending could address these issues, and reasonable people can disagree about which are best.
What is essential, though, is for us all to recognize that what’s at stake is not—and cannot be—the comfort of current generations only. We need to protect the interests of people who are not yet old enough to vote. Generations before us have sacrificed to give us the extraordinary opportunities that we have today, and we owe it to future generations to do the same.
I say this to you because, in a sense, it is your turn now. . . . [Y]ou are well trained to be stewards of the future. You graduate today and soon—much sooner than you realize—you will find yourselves in positions of significant responsibility. To me, that is inspiring. Because I know how exceptionally gifted you are. It gives me great hope to know that you will help to define our collective future. We need your talent, your energy, and your commitment. I know you will continue to make us proud.