William and Mary Law School

Remarks of Jennifer G. Case '09, 08-09 Student Bar Association President, at Graduation

Professor Scott.  President Reveley.  Interim Dean Butler.  Faculty.  And, Classmates. 

Well, first and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS!  It's so hard to believe that we're already here.  Law school time is very strange.  It seems like just yesterday we were all meeting each other at the Dean's reception on the first day of law camp, but it also feels like we've been here forever.  We graduate today in what are certainly challenging times.  And, the challenges and the difficulties that we face often cause us to lose sight of our accomplishments and devalue the many things that each of us have to be proud of.  When we allow ourselves to lose perspective, we are unable to see that with every challenge, there is also an opportunity for success.  

I'm fairly certain that each of us would define success in a different way.  At the risk of using what I'm sure is a very cliché commencement speech technique, I'll give you the dictionary definition.  Success is the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.  So, my question today is does the absence of those things mean that I have failed?  As law students we are too quick to answer in the affirmative.  We are too quick to lose perspective and too quick to dwell on what we have not.  But, today, in my short time on this stage, I want to encourage my fellow graduates to realize and appreciate that the absence of wealth, the absence of a desired position at our dream jobs, or even the absence of the honor of graduating at the top of our class do not mean that we have failed, because what others might label as a failure or a setback are often blessings in disguise.  You have probably been given this advice before, but I think it bears repeating today on this very important day in our lives, and I hope it is a message that we will all take with us as we enter the so-called real world.  To demonstrate my point, I would like to share two quick stories. 

 The first is about a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who attended Harvard Law in the late 1940s.  This student went on interviews at the big law firms in New York with the rest of his class.  Despite his academic achievements, including being a member of the law review, he was one of only two students in his class that did not have a job at the end of hiring season.  At a time when the good old boy law firms cared more about a family name than one's credentials, this individual found himself in a place where seemingly no doors were open and no opportunities were knocking.  By chance, a professor informed him that a couple of lawyers were starting a firm, but that they were doing so without a single client.  This student took the risk and joined the firm as its only associate.  It turns out, that this individual is the last living named partner of the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom.  Likely, Joe Flom would have been successful at any of these other firms, but he probably would not have achieved the level of success that he did, if those firms had not rejected him. His blessing in disguise was rejection.  I'm sure he didn't see it that way at the time, but we rarely do.  

When I began writing this speech, the personal story that I intended on telling goes back to my junior year of high school, at a time when I thought my life was over.  My parents had just informed me that my family was moving out of state and I had to complete my senior year at a brand new high school.  And though that story begins with me thinking that my life was over for sure and ends with me realizing that the move was a blessing in disguise, I have a more current and probably more relevant example to share.  Wednesday morning I received a phone call from the firm where I had planned to begin work in the Fall.  It turns out that my offer has been deferred for a year, and as of this week, I am essentially starting my job search over and I have no idea what I will be doing after I take the bar. 

And, I know there are many of you that are sitting here, without jobs, deferred, or getting ready to leave for a city that you never intended to make home, or maybe your personal lives are not where you expected them to be at this point in your life.  But, today let's focus on the fact that our journey is just beginning.  We are about to walk across this stage and become law school graduates.  Our hard work, our stress, our unhealthy habits and late nights in the library have paid off and we have so much to be proud of today.  Under any definition of success, we have succeeded.  We all have minor disappointments and setbacks, but those setbacks might just be our own Joe Flom opportunity knocking at the door.   

So in closing, let's not dwell on things we cannot control.  Let's not focus on what we don't have, and let's definitely not lose our enthusiasm.  Instead, we are going to go out into the world and build firms, create non-profits, defend those who are unable to defend themselves, and seize upon our own blessing in disguise.