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Monday, May 28, 2007

Yale Law School Grads Urged To Become Heroes of Their Own Lives, Help Others Do Same



It was a Memorial Day that will hold special memories for Yale Law School’s Class of 2007.  Before a gathering of about 1200 family, friends and faculty members in the sun-filled Law School Courtyard, 222 students were honored at Commencement ceremonies on Monday afternoon, May 28.

Dean Harold Hongju Koh gave welcoming remarks, proudly introducing “quite simply, the finest new law graduates on the planet this year.”

He recounted some of their major accomplishments and asked the class, the first to start and finish with him as dean, to remember some simple lessons. Among them: that accomplishment without humility is tragic and that excellence without humanity is worthless.  He said Yale Law School has always been a community of commitment, dedicated to the pursuit of careers “not of selfishness but of service.”

The announcement of degree candidates followed—186 Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees, 30 Master of Laws (LL.M.), 3 Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.), and 3 Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.).  The students will officially receive their degrees once the Law School faculty votes on June 7.

Former Sidley Austin-Robert D. McLean ’70 Visiting Professor of Law Pamela Karlan ’84, chosen by the class to deliver the commencement address, spoke next. Currently the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law at Stanford University, she told the students, “Yale Law School is the place where I fell in love with the rest of my life.”

In a talk sprinkled with humor, poetry, props, personal anecdotes, literary quotes and baseball references, she recounted baseball sage Yogi Berra’s comment, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and she urged the graduates to do the same. 

“Sometimes we should refuse to choose,” she said. “You’re not facing a choice between being a public interest lawyer or being a sellout. Truly great lawyers…take both paths from the fork. They use their gifts to give back to the community, as well as to take care of themselves and the people they love. They make corporations more responsible. They prosecute crime. They pave the road for new technologies to bring life-saving and life-enhancing products to the market. They defend the accused. They remember a wonderful insight from one of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell: ‘If we judge by wealth and power, our times are the best of times; if the times have made us willing to judge by wealth and power, they are the worst of times.’”

Professor Karlan quoted from the opening sentence of David Copperfield and challenged students to become the heroes of their own lives.

“The pages of the briefs you file and the memoranda you write and the opinions you publish…should be a part of making your own lives heroic. And you should use the gifts luck and Yale have given you to enable people who have been excluded from the great good fortunes all of us have enjoyed, to become the heroes of their lives as well.”

Also addressing the graduates was Pius Nkonzo Langa, Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa. Langa, who received an honorary degree earlier in the day from Yale University, congratulated the graduates on their success but urged them to go beyond it to a different kind of success.

“When we succeed, we think we are the whole world—it is the best of times—but you look over the fence and you see the worst of times,” said Langa, referring to the various human tragedies being played out around the world.

“People who go beyond themselves, seeking to make a contribution to the betterment of mankind, are the true successes,” he said.