LL.M. Speaker: Brynn O'Brien
I have learned something special this week: When casebooks are retired from service at the law library, they are stacked behind the podium on graduation day so tiny people in oversized gowns can reach the microphone.
Good afternoon, Class of 2011, partners, families, friends, faculty, and distinguished guests. What an outrageous honor it is to speak to you today.
LL.M. class, I know that many of you will be toasting your successes tonight with a glass of champagne. So with this in mind, I want to offer a few observations about bubbles.
Bubbles float. They rise to the surface. And their contents are protected from the rest of the world by a delicate iridescent film.
Classmates: Look around you. These beautiful lawns, these buildings inscribed with the names of great thinkers—these things exist in the rarified atmosphere of a bubble. I do not intend to talk very much today about what goes on inside this bubble; we will all take away our own memories. But as Ben said before me, it is a very privileged bubble indeed.
Consider for a moment these facts about the area in which the Columbia University bubble is physically suspended: 35 percent of residents in this postcode live below the federal poverty line—which for this year is around $22,000 for a family of four—less than half of our yearly tuition. Consider that fact, alongside this one: Only one-fifth of adults in this postcode have a tertiary education, and that includes Columbia students.
We LL.M.s have learned a few things about the land of the free from trying to “Americanize” our personal statements and our CVs—which involves declaring that you are the cleverest, most creative, adversity-overcoming, poverty conquering, Olympic gold-medaling, catwalk-modeling, animal-resuscitating, endurance unicycle riding (but still capitalist, and probably corporate) lawyer there ever was.
And, of course, the most modest.
The Ivy League bubble, naturally, is encased in the larger bubble of America.
Oh, bubble of contradictions!
- Where you can order your bacon covered in chocolate, but both the bacon and the chocolate are organic;
- Where Donald Trump is a serious presidential contender, until President Obama roasts him at a Press gallery dinner;
- Where stripping teachers of benefits seems like a politically attractive idea but increasing taxes for those who earn more than $200,000 per year does not;
- Where human rights are an export commodity but they often languish, unacknowledged, at home;
- Where the financial crisis brought the world economic system to its knees, but not one of those responsible has yet been brought to justice.
But the colors of Central Park in October, the blossoms along the College Walk in spring, light reflected off the perfectly angled spire of the Chrysler Building, the diversity of your ideas and beliefs, your energy in defense of the right to free speech—all of these things will still take your breath away.
In short: America, you confuse and confound us, sometimes you worry us — but we love you, nonetheless.
Some things happened these past nine months on the outside of the magnificent, mesmerizing bubble of America: The Arab Spring; flooding in Pakistan and Australia; the devastating earthquake in Japan; for some of us, the loss of family members; for others, the addition of new ones. My LL.M. classmates, having one foot outside the bubble, were drawn from its safe harbor, and, I am proud to say, offered each other support and love.
But here’s the thing about bubbles: They do not last forever. And therein lies their transcendent beauty.
Ladies and gentlemen, this bubble, the Columbia LL.M., is just about to burst. I say this with some sadness, but also with the knowledge that what lies outside the bubble is extraordinary and exciting. The challenges we now face may be terrifying, they may be overwhelming, but our time at Columbia has equipped us to better face them.
Classmates, now is the time to burst out of this university, this city, this country, into to the immeasurable opportunities of the world of 2011 and beyond, like fireworks exploding across the sky.
Congratulations LL.M.s, and thank you.