Thomas Krawitz '08 Graduation Speech
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished faculty, JDs and LLMs,
Soyez les bienvenus
Da Jia Hau
E ai, galera, tudo bem?
Sotsugyo Omedoto Gozaimasu
Hola, mi gente querida!
Gruess Gott und servus beieinand
These are only a few languages spoken by members of the LL.M. class and it is a great pleasure to represent them today!
First I would like to express our thanks. We thank our senators and the Graduate Studies team, led by Dean Sylvia Polo, who worked hard to make this a wonderful year for all of us.
But our biggest thank you is to our parents, families and friends who have travelled from around the world to celebrate this special day with us.
My fellow countryman, Otto von Bismarck once remarked in his wisdom: “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” I must say if you had dared to enter the library during exam period, the same could be said about our degrees.
In all seriousness, looking back over my year at Columbia, I have had not only an outstanding academic experience – but also the unique opportunity to exchange ideas and culture with students from around the world.
There are some notable differences from the experiences I have had previously at universities in Germany and England.
For example, one of the quirks of American law schools that puzzled all of us from other countries is the grading curve. However, we followed the advice of the famous American philosopher Homer Simpson who said: “Weaseling out of the curve is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals – except the weasel.”
Another difference is that American law schools place more emphasis on the relationship between law and society. It was interesting to think in more depth about the underlying economic and policy contexts in which legal decisions are taken.
Then the teaching method is different. American professors know the names of their students and call on them regularly. This so called Socratic method while not always welcome is a much more personal and effective way of teaching. I will definitely apply this method when I go back to teach at Munich University.
Another idiosyncrasy is pizza lunches. And although the students here pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, they strangely enough get ecstatic at the sight of a free slice of pizza. Honestly, this is a difference that should remain, leave the pizza to Columbia.
Let me now turn to the international exchange. What a diverse class we are! We are 216 students coming from Asia, good old Europe, South America, the Middle East and from countries whose existence might actually be news to many here this afternoon.
Some of us are human rights defenders, others are corporate lawyers. Some of us have negotiated international treaties, others have taught at universities. Some are religious, others are not. Some are married, others are not even single. Some have children already, others are still trying to figure out how. Some are beautiful, others are from Germany.
Although we all took very different courses, there was always a common band that held the class together. What connected us was our interest in each other’s backgrounds and experiences. We knew that it is not only enlightening but also much more fun to embrace intercultural exchange rather than treat the unknown as presumptively worse or regard it as a threat.
We have experienced Asian respectfulness and politeness, we enjoyed the passion and lust for life of the Latins, we danced Hora, the Israeli national dance, we celebrated a Canadian night with far too much, well, mineral water and we laughed about the Italian and New Zealand accent.
More recently we joined together in our prayers for the victims of the tragedies in China and Myanmar.
Over the past ten months we have grown together. When my last two grandparents died last November I wanted to go home and be with my family. I felt lonely and displaced. But then my Argentinean friends lifted me up by saying “We are your New York family”.
Only over the next months we will realize what we have lost and what we have won. We have lost the possibility to hang out together, to just meet up and go for a drink around the corner. But we have won friendships that will last and we have established a network literally around the world.
In graduation speeches you often hear warnings about entering the “real world.” It sounds like a menace. I have never understood this. Most of us LLMs have been there in the so called “real world.” From my brief experience, I can say this much: If you care about what you do, and most importantly, if you can laugh about yourself, the life out there will be just as real – and just as valuable – as it always has been.
I am happy to be a member of the class of 2008 and spend this day among good friends. We all very much enjoyed our time here at Columbia. Let us look back in gratitude and forward with confidence. And now, let’s celebrate the moment. Yes, we are fired up and ready to go!