J.D. Speaker: Arjun K. Jaikumar
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today.
It’s a great honor to be here as a member of the Class of 2014. It probably goes without saying that this is a particularly brilliant, dedicated, and accomplished group. You have all, in fact, done something that one of my personal heroes never did. Not everyone knows this, but one of our alums is a man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century and one of the top three presidents the country ever had, but you have done today what FDR did not do: You have actually graduated from Columbia Law School.
The main reason I wanted to be here today, though, is to tell our guests what we already know: This is a collection not only of great future lawyers, but of good people. We often hear that law school is a lonely, cutthroat place; thanks to the Class of 2014, it has been almost collaborative one for me. I’ve met some of my best friends here, but that’s to be expected. Anyone can find a group of five or 10 people almost anywhere. Those people build your inner circle, but it takes 400 other classmates to build a community, and that’s what we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy here.
I’d like to send my classmates off with some great insight. But I don’t have much more life experience than my classmates, so I will turn to someone who did. My dad was a professor himself. He couldn’t be here today; he passed away in 1998, when I was not quite 15 years old. But when he was teaching, every year, on the last day of class, he would tell his students the story I now share with you.
Growing up in India, Dad was an avid mountain climber, making trips from the south of India north to the Himalayas. When he was 22, he was with a friend on their way down from a 20,000 foot peak when they came upon a cornice of ice and snow that shattered under their weight.
Dad jumped one way; his partner, the other. He rolled down the mountain at tremendous speed. By the time he stopped sliding, he had fallen several thousand feet. He stood up, his clothes in tatters, bleeding heavily, and in great pain. He had lost almost all of his supplies, and had no idea where he was. So he figured he just had to walk until he couldn’t walk anymore. He traveled for 24 hours, unable to sit down, lest he prove unable to stand up again.
Finally, he heard the sound of young children playing. Overcome, he collapsed. He woke up to find a shepherd woman, speaking a language he did not understand but offering him food and water. It was soon clear that he could no longer stand, much less walk. So the shepherd woman indicated that she would take this bloody, broken, foreign man to the nearest village—on her back.
It took them three days to reach the village. When they finally arrived, the woman argued with local officials until they agreed to transport my father to a hospital. There, my father learned that he had been the lucky one; his climbing partner was missing and presumed dead.
My dad had a broken hip and fallen arches in both feet, but he made a full recovery. He eventually emigrated to the United States, where he began a brilliant career. He taught at one of the world’s finest universities, met presidents, and testified before the United States Senate. My father lived every immigrant’s dream—the American dream.
But he never forgot the shepherd woman’s kindness. Nor did he forget the remarkable role that luck had played in his survival—how lucky he had been to jump to the right side of the mountain, to walk in the correct direction, and to stumble upon such a generous stranger.
He told this story for three reasons, the reasons I now share it with you. First of all, relax. We are about to enter a stressful and demanding profession. But life is a fragile thing, so remember to relax and enjoy and celebrate yours while you are able.
Second, no matter how bad things get, persevere. We all will deal with adversity in an increasingly uncertain profession. But sometimes when hope seems lost, the ability to remain standing and walking can lead to great things.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, no matter how far you rise, remember the role that luck has played in your own lives. Success is borne in good fortune, and obligation, borne in success. I cannot overstate the brilliance, kindness, and work ethic I see in the people before me. But remember that, wherever we end up, we are there because at some point, someone carried us.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life not only to have known you, but to call myself one of you.
Now, it is my great honor to introduce Patrick Perillo, who will be speaking on behalf of this year’s Master of Laws and SSD class, having been elected by the members of those classes by popular vote.