Gates Urges Graduates to Heed "Duties and Responsibilities That Come with Citizenship"

  • A Call to Serve
    A Call to Serve  "Preparedness to serve, devotion to one's community and fellow citizens, caring beyond self - these are all fundamental to democracy," Gates told the Law School's 2013 graduates.  Photo by Odd Moxie Photography and B. Blasack
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William & Mary Chancellor Robert M. Gates, a 1965 graduate of the College, urged the Law School's Class of 2013 to heed the "duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship." "Preparedness to serve, devotion to one's community and fellow citizens, caring beyond self - these are fundamental to democracy," he told Class of 2013 graduates at the Law School's May 12 Diploma Ceremony.

Read the transcript of the address.

Gates told the approximately 240 J.D and LL.M. graduates and their friends and family members who gathered at the Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre that he approached the commencement address with "some trepidation" because he knew the honor usually was given to a lawyer or judge.  He recalled that as U.S. secretary of defense, a position he held from 2006 to 2011, he probably had as many as 10,000 attorneys - "the equivalent of two Army combat brigades" - working for him between the military services and Pentagon. "The jury is still out, if you'll forgive the expression, over which group is more dangerous when provoked," he added wryly.

Gates noted that the graduates earned their degrees at a school that places "special emphasis on generating practice-ready lawyers" and that is well known for its "first rate" education and skills training. However, he said, to his mind, "what makes attending William & Mary truly special ... is the opportunity to be part of an institution rooted in the earliest history and fundamental governing principles of the United States of America. ... The intersection of law, liberty, and history defines the William & Mary experience."

"It is impossible to be a student here and not feel the weight of that history," he said. "I certainly did as an undergraduate walking these grounds some fifty years ago. And I hope that you, as I did then, feel the weight of that responsibility as well."

Gates used the occasion to talk to the class about the "duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship," civic obligations, he said, that receive far less attention in classroom and public discussions.

The graduates did not suffer from any lack of "public mindedness," said Gates, as evidenced, he said, by the more than 14,000 hours of pro bono hours contributed by students and managing attorneys in the school's nine clinics. "I am especially proud that William & Mary is the home of the Puller Law Clinic, which has become a nationally recognized model for how to reduce the massive backlog in disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs."

While he was confident that many in the class would continue to contribute to the public good through pro bono or volunteer week, he said he hoped that they would consider contributing at least a of portion of their work lives to being full-time public servants. "I believe public service remains a necessary and honorable calling, and, contrary to the perceptions of many, a fulfilling and satisfying opportunity."

"Preparedness to serve, devotion to one's community and fellow citizens, caring beyond self - these are all fundamental to democracy," he said. "Our forebears who walked these grounds more than two centuries ago understood this when they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. But it is a lesson that must be refreshed in every generation by the best and brightest young Americans. It is a lesson that must be refreshed by the wise and honest among you."


The Law School and Law School Association present a number of awards each year at the Diploma Ceremony.  Below is a list of the 2013 award recipients and the awards they received.

Judy Conti '04: Citizen-Lawyer Award

Diana J.  Cooper '13: Thurgood Marshall Award

Professors Susan Grover and Trotter Hardy: John Marshall Award

Professor Allison Orr Larsen: Walter L. Williams, Jr., Teaching Award

Chris Rey '10: Taylor Reveley Award

Vladislava Soshkina '13: Lawrence W. I'Anson Award

Lee Tankle '13: George Wythe Award