May 12, 2014 -- Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown Saturday called upon members of the University of Houston Law Center Class of 2014 to serve as ambassadors and statesmen of the law in their careers and communities, and as zealous stewards of the law itself.
A 1995 graduate of the Law Center, Brown drew upon three books and a poem to underscore the responsibilities the graduates were about to take on as well as the importance of personal well-being, and a balanced perspective toward career, goals, relationships, and life in general.
He reminded the class that he welcomed them to the Law Center three years earlier during orientation and urged them then “to be good ambassadors for this law school, the University of Houston at large, the city of Houston, and the law itself. You’re now better equipped to take on all of those ambassadorships, and I hope you will with happy enthusiasm.”
Referring to The Lost Lawyer by Anthony Kronman, a professor and one-time dean of Yale Law School, Brown said the author described “the spiritual crisis affecting the American legal profession which I’m afraid we still face today.” Kronman noted the decline of an ideal, the “lawyer-statesman,” whom Brown described as a leader with “a set of values and traits of character that prizes good judgment above technical expertise and that encourages a public-spirited devotion to the law. The lawyer that this ideal presents is, unlike those who use the law merely to advance their own private interests, a devoted citizen who stands ready to sacrifice his or her own well-being for the public good.
“What he and I are encouraging you to do,” Brown said, “is to employ what you have learned for the greater good.”
The Republican justice joked that he would have called members of the audience crazy if they ever suggested he would cite the author of his second recommended reading, Arianna Huffington. But, Brown said, her new book, Thrive, offers guidance to the new lawyers. It describes how she came upon a third metric of success after collapsing from exhaustion and injuring herself. Success, she found, is more than money and power. The third element to living “the good life,” she wrote, consists of four “pillars:” well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.
“Meaningful work and achievement are invaluable,” Brown said, “But living the good life will also involve taking care of yourself, and giving of yourself to others.”
The justice recounted the story of his third book, and personal favorite, Lonesome Dove, by the Texas author Larry McMurtry. The epic story of three old friends on a cattle drive in the 1870s is “chockfull of timeless wisdom,” Brown told the graduates, but the bottom line for him is that while you should work hard and strive to fulfill your goals, realize that “there’s not any one thing, or event, or accomplishment that’s going to make you continuously happy. It’s a cliché, he added, “but you really should enjoy the journey, and the little everyday things that you encounter along the way.”
Brown ended his speech by reciting the poem Desiderata – “desired things” – written by a lawyer, Max Ehrmann, in 1927. It urges people to view the beauty and troubles of life with hope and compassion and ends: “In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Brown’s commencement address came before 351 graduates – 258 earning J.D. degrees and 93 LL.M. – crossed the stage at Hofheinz Pavilion Saturday evening.
Interim Dean Richard M. Alderman welcomed the graduates and thanked their families and friends for all the support they had showed them during their three tough years of law school. “I can assure you that you will be impressed by these graduates,” he said, “some of whom will be community leaders, prominent lawyers, judges, professors and maybe even a dean.
“I congratulate each of you,” Alderman told the graduates, “and look forward to hearing about all the great things I know you will be doing in the future.”
University of Houston System Board of Regents Chairman Jarvis V. Hollingsworth, Law Center Class of ’93, noted that the graduates join nearly a quarter-million UH alumni, more than half of whom stay in Houston. “No other university has such an impact on our region as the University of Houston Law Center,” he said. “As you leave here, I believe – I expect – you will make a difference in the world.”
Tom Hetherington ’98, president of the Law Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates to the organization, noting, “The practice of law is really like the rest of life, it’s all about relationships. We want you to be involved in the alumni association.”
Sanjay Bapat, elected by fellow students as class speaker, brought commencement to a humorous close, riffing on classmates, professors, and the building itself, before drawing in a more serious vein on the fourth book of the evening, Lord of the Flies. He noted the students came into an intense, challenging, and highly competitive environment that could have brought out the worst in each of them. But instead, he said, “We held each other up,” and it never became Lord of the Flies.
Bapat said “according to a Google search,” he was supposed to end his address by issuing a challenge to his fellow classmates, which he did with a personal story. He said he was recently in a minor fender-bender and scratched the rear bumper of a luxury automobile. The driver jumped out of the car in a huff and informed Bapat that he was in big trouble because he had the gall to hit a Mercedes belonging to a lawyer! “Here is my challenge,” Bapat told his fellow graduates as they begin their lives and careers as lawyers: “Don’t be that guy!”
In closing the proceedings, Alderman offered one final thought to the new crop of lawyers: “I encourage you to adopt excellence as your goal from day one, and for every day that follows. I trust that path will allow you to do well. I hope you will do good.”