William and Mary Law School

Welcoming Remarks from 2009-10 SBA President Zachariah J. DeMeola '10

I'm privileged to have the opportunity to address all of you today.  It is so gratifying to be here with you, your family, your friends, and of course Justice O'Connor on the day we recognize our achievement of completing the study of law.  I'm proud of the work we've done and I'm proud of the community we've created and strengthened in our time at William & Mary.  I'm proud to be a member of the Class of 2010.

Over the past few years we have added so much to our school, its tradition, and its reputation.  We embraced the William & Mary culture - one of collegiality, intellectual pursuit, and public service.  We have succeeded in every traditional benchmark that measures excellence in law schools.  Our students have produced great scholarship and we have also gone far beyond academics. 

The demands that law school places on its students in general can create an insular world, but within that world we created a rich and open environment of possibility.  Members of our class took the initiative to create and develop all sorts of programs, activities and events: the re-establishment of both the George Wythe Society and a Chapter of the ACLU, the reform of student government and the Honor Council, the creation of a Business Law Journal, Chapter of the Year for the Black Law Students Association, just to name a few.  Our works also extended beyond the classroom and beyond Williamsburg.  Our students led financial reform at the college, brought the rule of law to developing countries, volunteered at elementary and high schools, and participated in a presidential election.  Now we are lawyers, adding one more public service to our list - by our very existence we are providing punch-lines to lawyer jokes everywhere.  And we do that pro bono. 

Much of what we achieved, we achieved together.  We were able to create lasting success because we worked together, learned from each other, and thrived off of the support and encouragement we found in our class and our college.  I'll always remember the community that we developed from the strong foundations that our professors, our staff, our administration and our tradition provided for us.  I want to sincerely thank our deans, faculty and staff.

In the past two years the world outside of law school has challenged our outlook.  In the midst of our successes the practice of law has changed.  The formula of hard work equating immediately to preferred employment is not as reliable as it used to be.  You have all shown resilience, creativity and confidence to retain the drive that brings us all here today.  The future may seem uncertain, but I want to remind you all that the past was never really predictable when we lived in it.  Take yourselves back to the end of our first semester and the static that filled each classroom before our first exam - what may be the pinnacle of the sort of uncertainty we all shared in common.  Today, we know that we were up to the task and we completed it. 

All of that is behind us, but law school, much like law school grading, is a very subjective experience.    Each of us has a unique tale to tell about what we put into law school, and what law school took out of us.  As we look ahead and see that clear paths are difficult to find, I would only urge you to remember your achievements, the unique abilities you brought to bear on the challenge of law school and how they, in turn, brought you here today.   We have so much more to do and to offer.  We have another duty, now, to our future clients and communities, and it will require us to maintain our focus in a troubled world.  As graduates from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, we're particularly suited to the challenges ahead.  Keep in mind the culture of William & Mary.  It will allow you preserve the spirit of possibility you fostered while you were here. 

The Citizen Lawyer may sometimes be difficult to define, but one central tenet to the idea is that law and its practice is about people.  We have the ability to offer hope to our clients - to make a career out of solving problems for people.  As we enter the current world, we know what it is like to struggle, but we've also been solving problems as citizen lawyers would for years - and we've been doing it well.  Now it is time to take our abilities, talents, and drive to help others - in the same way we worked with each other here at school. 

Don't lose yourself in the struggle to keep moving forward.  Take some time to reflect on what the last three years have meant to you, and most of all keep the authenticity of your drive and your ambitions.  Recall the community you created here, how it has prepared you for practicing law and advocating for people, and remember the beauty of your achievements and those of your friends. Let it carry you forward through challenging times.

You will do well.  I'm certain of it.  Congratulations class of 2010!