U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia drew applause and laughter with advice he gave to the Class of 2011 during the Law School's May 15 graduation ceremony: "Never be afraid to fail. Always remember in our political discourse and debate to be civil and respectful of those you disagree with. And, never forget to call your mom."
Warner alternated humorous insights with sober observations during his speech to the approximately 220 J.D. and LL.M. graduates and their friends and family members who gathered in the Sunken Garden for the event.
He promised to heed Winston Churchill's advice to speakers: "Be clear. Be concise. And, be seated." When the crowd responded with appreciative applause, he added, humorously, without missing a beat, "Now, don't be thinking I am all done already. I am a politician."
Warner, who was the first to graduate from college in his family, noted that the graduates' diplomas represented "by any statistical measure a ticket to a better life" and the opportunity "to do things and go places that others - maybe even others in your own families - can only dream about." But, he added, there was a cost: "the price of this unparalleled opportunity is the responsibility that comes with a world-class legal education."
He spoke about the economic challenges that faced the graduates. The reality is, he told them, that "you may not be able to achieve your ... aspirations on your first try, or even your second try." After his own law school graduation, he said, his early ventures in an energy startup company and in real estate left him "at the ripe old age of, I think, 26 ... sleeping on my friends' couches." Those same friends shook their heads in disbelief when in the early 1980s he threw his energies as a co-founder into the company that became Nextel. He recalled, with obvious relish, their advice at the time: "Warner, you are so crazy. Go get a real job. Who is ever going to want a car telephone?"
"Too much of our society glorifies success, sometimes success at any cost," he said. "But, ... anything I've ever accomplished in my life has come about first of all with failure. I've learned more from failure than virtually any success."
Warner reminded the graduates that their legal education gave them a responsibility to "a larger community." "It is just a fact that as graduates of this great law school you are going to play a bigger role than most in the public debates that will basically shape the future of our Commonwealth and our country," he said.
Warner expressed concern about the cynicism and distrust rampant in a culture where political discourse is characterized by "too much cross talk and not enough meaningful conversation." He sounded an alarm about the national debt, which now stands at 14 trillion dollars, and stressed that it required a bipartisan solution.
Lawyers' finely honed skills for debate and advocacy should be used in the cause of their principles, he said. However, he urged them also to "recognize ... the genius of the founding fathers that said we still have to find common ground, we still have to be willing to compromise for the greater good."
In closing, Warner urged the graduates to "call your mother," or another loved one, to say thank you. "The fact is that while we celebrate your success here, none of you got here alone." Someone in the audience agreed heartily with the senator and remarked loudly "that's right." Warner concurred and said "that's right, Mom," which sparked appreciative laughter and prolonged clapping from the crowd. He reminded the graduates that the day of their graduation from law school was " a moment of incredible success." "That is why I recommend ... that after this ceremony you go find that special person out there and tell them thank you, and tell them that you love them."