Student Senate President: Max Miller
Good afternoon, families, friends, faculty, administrators, staff, and most importantly, congratulations to the Columbia Law School Class of 2009. My name is Max Miller, and for the past year, I served as president of the Columbia Law School Student Senate. It is an honor to be here today to celebrate with all of you, graduates and guests.
Before I begin, I’d like to say a special thank you. Although there are many in this audience that deserve my sincere appreciation and thanks, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t acknowledge the two people who are most responsible for my being here today: my parents, Verle and Jill Miller. Mom and Dad, I love you, and I thank you for all your love and support.
For graduates of the J.D. program, this ceremony represents the end of three years of legal studies. For LL.M. graduates, this has been a year expanding upon and enhancing your existing legal knowledge and experience. For all of us, it is the end of a long trip filled with late nights, too much caffeine, a little self-doubt now and then, and one or two classes we’d like to forget.
Through it all, though, we accomplished our goals by working hard and keeping our noses to the grindstone. This experience has undoubtedly equipped us for the challenges that lie ahead—probably least of which is beginning our careers in a rapidly changing legal market.
But, before we look to the future, let us think back on the past and what we will take with us as we end this chapter of our lives. When we look back at our time here at CLS, we probably won’t remember everything we learned in the lecture halls, or our grade for a certain class, but we’ll definitely remember the fun times we had at Dean’s Cup, Barrister’s Ball, cultural nights, and the Law Revue shows. We’ll remember hanging out with our friends and exploring New York City. And, we’ll remember fondly those late-night conversations we had with our classmates learning about their lives, their experiences, and their viewpoints on the world.
The memory I’ll probably most keep with me came on the morning of April 3, 2009. That morning, the Supreme Court of Iowa—my home state—legalized same-sex marriage. Now, that ruling is not one that everybody would necessarily agree with, but it demonstrates the power of a few dedicated lawyers and law students striving for change. For those of you who don’t know, the Iowa decision was, in part, thanks to the efforts of CLS students in the Sexuality and Gender Clinic and their faculty supervisor, Suzanne Goldberg, who is this year’s winner of the Willis Reese Prize for excellence in teaching. Professor Goldberg and those students worked diligently to research Iowa’s legal history and filed an amicus brief with the court, parts of which were incorporated into the court's opinion. I don’t know if I've ever been as proud of my home state as I was on April 3—which for those of you who know me is saying quite a lot—but I can tell you for certain that I’ve never been as proud to call myself a member of Columbia Law School as I was on that historic day.
That day was memorable for me, because it clarified two very important aspects of this school and where we, as graduates, are headed as lawyers. First, we were very fortunate to learn the law alongside so many talented, intelligent, and motivated people. And, we learned as much from each other as we did from any of our casebooks or any of our professors. Our classmates will be future leaders, activists, and agents for change around the country and around the globe.
Second, those clinic students represent exactly what we should all strive for as lawyers: To use our legal education and the power it gives us to identify and fix the problems we each see in society—regardless of our political or ideological viewpoints.
This power we now possess may be the source of why lawyers are cursed by some and tend to be the butt of unflattering jokes. As lawyers, we will have the power to make a difference, and not everyone will agree with the differences we try to make. It reminds me of what Winston Churchill once said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, some time in your life.” As graduates of Columbia Law School, we should all stand for something, and we should all stand up to make the world a better place.
This graduation is our first step in taking on this giant responsibility. I sincerely hope you all will continue to serve your communities, continue to grow as leaders, and continue to use your knowledge and skills for the greater good. Columbia Law School class of 2009, congratulations and good luck.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Andrew Le Grand, J.D. 2009, who was elected to speak at Graduation by popular vote of the J.D. class.