With the 2004 presidential campaign behind him and his focus now on ending poverty in America, John Edwards issued a simple challenge on Sunday, May 15, to graduates of the William & Mary Law School -- help others in need.
Whether it's spending one week a year offering free legal services to those who have lost everything, or volunteering regularly at a church or local homeless shelter, the former senator and vice presidential candidate told graduates they can make a difference.
"I am here to ask you to join me in working to eradicate poverty in America," Edwards said. "It is time for you - young people - to lead us in a cause that's bigger than all of us. If we believe that there is dignity in hard work, then poverty has no place in our country."
Edwards, who represented North Carolina for one term in the U.S. Senate, was selected in 2004 as Sen. John Kerry's Democratic Party running mate for the White House. The University of North Carolina School of Law announced earlier this year that Edwards will lead a new Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.
Edwards asked the entire audience - about 2,000 people who attended the ceremony in the Sunken Garden - to focus on four things to eradicate poverty in America.
First, it is time to finally shine a bright light on the problem, Edwards said. Good people from all different backgrounds and beliefs care about the issue.
"We need to put this back on the national agenda," he said.
Second, it is time to raise the minimum wage in the United States. People don't want a free ride - they want a fair chance to succeed, he said.
Third, the country needs to provide health care and child care for everyone who needs it.
"Let's strengthen the foundation for families that work," he said.
Finally, it is time to make sure families are not just getting by but getting ahead.
"Today, more than 25 percent of America's working families are living on the edge of poverty," Edwards said. "They can't survive more than three months if something happens to their income. Let's help them save, get an education, and buy a house."
Robert A. Maylor II '05, outgoing president of the student body, offered words of welcome as well as thoughtful, often humorous reminisces of his class's odyssey over the past three years, a time he said that strengthened "the personal and professional fabric we are made of."
Geoffrey G. Grivner '05 and Meghan E. Hallock '05, co-chairs of the Class Gift Committee, noted that 86% of the Class of 2005 had already made gifts or pledges to the Law School's Annual Fund. It is the second highest participation rate by members of a graduating class in the Law School's history.
Following the presentation of diplomas, Law School Dean Taylor Reveley recalled first meeting the Class of 2005 in the Law School's entrance hall on a Sunday in August 2002. Over the past three years, he said, the Class's "can do" spirit left its mark on organizations such as the Student Bar Association, the Public Service Fund, student journals, moot court and trial teams. The Class also enriched the fabric of the local community through numerous charitable activities -- Thanksgiving food drives, Red Cross blood drives, drives to collect books for the local Head Start program and school supplies for Iraqi children, and much more. The Class, he added, was a driving force behind the Law School's recently created Loan Repayment Assistance Program.
Recipients of special awards at the Law School's graduation included:
- Donald G. Owens '71 received the Law School Association's Citizen Lawyer Award which honors a graduate or friend of the Law School who stands squarely in the Jeffersonian tradition of outstanding citizenship and leadership.
- Law Professor Mechele Dickerson received the Walter L. Williams Jr. Teaching Award, an award conferred by the graduating class in recognition of outstanding teaching.
- Jennifer L. Ketron '05 and Virginia L. Vile '05 received the Lawrence W. I'Anson Award for great professional promise.
- Justin M. Hargrove '05, Robert A. Maylor II '05 and Emily J. Cromwell Meyer '05 received the George Wythe Award, conferred upon a graduating student or students for exceptional service to the Law School.
- Law School Chief Financial Officer and Controller of the Law School Foundation Terri Lorincz received the John Marshall Award, conferred on a member of the Law School faculty or staff for exceptional service to the Law School.
- Elizabeth E. Bircher '05 received the Law School Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for distinguished pro bono work.