Monday, January 21, 2013

COMMENCEMENT SPEECH

ALFRED MOORE CLASS

THOMAS COOLEY LAW SCHOOL

JANUARY 20,2013

President LeDuc, Board Chairman and member of the inaugural Cooley Class, Larry Nolan, Board Member Emeritus and surviving member of the first Board of Directors, Jack Cote, Distinguished members of the Board of Directors, Learned and Beloved Members of the Faculty, Graduates of the Alfred Moore Class, Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, Husbands, Wives and assorted relatives, friends and…creditors of the graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is a great day for all of us.

For you graduates, it’s a day of achievement, satisfaction, accomplishment, relief, survival, escape.

Whatever you call it. You feel good today.

And so do I.

I want to thank President LeDuc for inviting me to speak here this afternoon.

I’m complemented to be called the Founder of Cooley Law School, but in truth, Don LeDuc has provided the academic and executive leadership which has earned Cooley a special place in the hierarchy of American education.

He invited me to speak because, this month, the Law School celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the meeting of the first class on January 12, 1973.

President LeDuc and the entire Cooley faculty and staff deserve our special congratulations.

For forty years of service to the legal profession, and to the nation..

On this day forty years ago, Richard Millhouse Nixon was sworn in for his second term as the thirty seventh President of the United States. Today, Barack Obama begins his second term as the forty fourth President.

Forty years and eight Presidents. It’s one heckofa along time.

I wonder how many of you graduates of the Alfred Moore Class were walking around back then.

I wonder. Would all those graduates who were born after January 12, 1973 please stand up.

There they are, ladies and gentlemen, the happy faces of the Facebook generation.

Let’s give them a hand. (Applause)

You know, standing up here looking out at this vast auditorium, and at literally thousands of people, I can’t help but remember the night we met with our very first class.

It was a cold, wintery Friday evening.

We gathered in a rented upstairs room. Seventy six nervous and excited students, each of whom had signed an acknowledgement that Cooley was not accredited.

We had no library. No Dean. No full time faculty. No blackboard. No chalk.

We had nothing but hopes and dreams and determination to make something out of nothing.

I told the class that night that someday, Cooley would be known for its campus, for its buildings, for its alumni. And when that day came, I said, it would seem that Cooley Law School always was.

I remember browsing in the state archives some years later and stumbling across a three by five index card about Thomas McIntyre Cooley.

It said that Thomas M. Cooley was a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in the nineteenth century who founded the law school in Lansing that bears his name.

So much for the pride of being the Founder of Cooley Law School.

But you didn’t come here this afternoon just to hear me talk about the good old days.

Or hear me tell you that when I was your age, we thought a lap top was where you put a napkin at dinner.

Or googling was what young men did when a pretty girl walked by.

Or that an Ipad must be something prescribed by an opthamologist.

I suppose when you were young your grandfather told you that, when he was your age, he had to walk five miles to school every day.

Rain or shine.

Barefoot.

In the snow.

Uphill.

Both ways.

You probably didn’t believe him either.

No sir, you didn’t come here to listen.

You came here today to walk.

You came to walk up onto this stage and receive your diploma. You’ve earned that piece of paper and you’ve come here this afternoon to claim it.

To feel it in your hand. To show it to your family and your friends.

And to hang it on the wall and show it to the world.

So I am going to talk to you today about that diploma, and I’m going to tell you just three things:

It is a Doctor of Laws from Cooley.

Now the first point is that your diploma is a doctoral degree. It represents 90 credit hours of postgraduate education.

You know, there’s a lot of talk these days about the economy.

Folks are questioning the value of a college education. Young people are graduating from college and they can’t find a job.

Some folks are beginning to question whether the cost of higher education is worth it. Graduates are often saddled with huge student loans, and there’s a lot of gloom and doom out there.

But let’s take a moment to get things in perspective.

When I graduated from Law School in 1952, I worked as a title examiner at an abstract company for about two years.

I jumped at a chance to work in a law firm. Took a 27% pay cut to get into the practice of law.

My secretary at that law firm made more money than I did.

So did my wife, who was a substitute teacher in the public schools.

After two years at the law firm, I went out on my own, and I never looked back.

So maybe you can see why I tell people that there is no such thing as an unemployed lawyer.

If you are a member of a learned profession, you have knowledge and skill that have value in the market place.

You never hear any talk about medical doctors or dentists being unemployed.

If you can hang out a shingle, you can find work to do.

It’s a funny thing. Everybody wants a job, but nobody wants a boss.

If you have a profession, you can be your own boss.

There are over three hundred and eleven million people in the United States.

Less than half of one percent of them are lawyers. That means there are over two hundred and fifty potential clients for every lawyer.

It ought to be some comfort to you graduates, as you sit here this afternoon to know that there are two hundred and fifty people out there waiting to give you money to do what you learned to do in law school.

Of course, first, you have to pass the bar exam.

I got an email a few weeks ago from a fellow named Jim, who graduated from Cooley about 25 years ago.

I remember him well. He failed the Bar Exam three times.

When he came to see me back then, I told him he didn’t have to be a licensed attorney to be successful.

I suggested he talk to some of our alumni who were doing very well in business. He just smiled and said, “You’ll see.” And walked out of my office.

Today, he is a Chief Assistant Prosecutor in New Jersey with eight younger lawyers working for him.

Bar examinations aren’t easy. They’re not supposed to be. But your diploma entitles you to sit for the exam, and your education at Cooley has prepared you to pass it.

I can assure you that if you really want it, you will have a license to practice law to hang alongside your diploma.

Of course, if you just want a job … if you want a boss, and a paycheck and a 401 K and health care, and paid vacations and a chance to get promoted, I can tell you that the piece of paper you are going to get up here will be your boarding pass on the flight to security and success.

Think about it. There is hardly a job description in the business world that you are not qualified – maybe even overqualified -- to do.

Does a bank want to hire a loan officer? Does an insurance company want a claims adjuster? Does a manufacturer want a personnel officer?

Who wouldn’t choose an applicant with a law degree over someone with a four year college education?

And consider this: Your law degree tells more about you than how much you know.

It testifies to your work ethic, to your commitment, to your dedication and perseverance.

It tells an employer that you will show up. That you will be prepared. That you know how to get a job done. That you know how to meet a challenge with guts and grit and come out a winner.

So the first point is that after today, you will be a doctor. A doctor of laws.

The American Bar Association tells us that medical doctors have their most productive years between their twelfth and twentieth years in practice.

And lawyers have their best years between their twentieth and their fortieth years in practice.

Of course, there are no guarantees in life, but my guess is that if you work as hard at your profession as you did at your education, you will make a decent living over the next forty or fifty years.

The second point I want to leave with you is this: your diploma is a doctorate of laws.

The law is the most interdisciplinary science.

It touches on everything people do, on everything that happens in life.

When Judge John Fitzgerald, God rest his soul, taught the first class at Cooley, he began by writing a quotation from Chaucer on the blackboard, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”

One thing you surely understand by now is that nobody knows all the law.

A lawyer is defined as a person who is learned in the law.

To be a person learned in the law is to be a person who studies the law, reads the law, contemplates the law, discusses the law, knowing that the journey takes more than a single lifetime.

Your diploma says that you are learned in the law. It says that you are a lawyer. And it is a very BIG, impressive and credible document.

It has the familiar Cooley logo prominently displayed.

That logo features the crown of a pillar and the Latin motto, “In corde hominum est anima legis.”

Forty years ago, we didn’t have a logo. I went into the class one day and showed the students some drawings and asked them to vote for the logo.

They picked the one with the Ionic column.

We bought the old Masonic Temple a year or so after that. It looked like a law school. Had pillars out in front. Unfortunately, they were Doric and not Ionic columns. But we never changed the logo.

I came up with the Latin motto for the school. “In corde hominum est anima legis.”

I told the students that it meant “the spirit of the law is in the hearts of men.”

A couple days later a committee of women students came to my office.

They called themelves CATS. An acronym for Cooley Action Team Sisters.

They let me know that the spirit of the law is also in the hearts of women.

I assured them that the Latin word hominum means mankind in the generic sense, and not just the male of the species.

That got me off the hook.

To tell the truth, there is no such Latin word as ‘hominum.’

But I figured since I made up the word, I was also entitled to make up the definition.

So we settled on the translation “The spirit of the law is in the human heart.”

And so it is.

That motto is more than just a catchy slogan. It is a statement of philosophy.

It is an affirmation of the existence of natural law. It testifies that there is such a thing as objective truth.

It reminds us that deep within the very heart and soul of every human being there abides the faculty of conscience which strives to understand the meaning of our lives, to distinguish between good and evil and to chart a course for the pursuit of true happiness.

The spirit of the law is within us.

The Ten Commandments that Moses carried down from Mount Sinai are etched in our hearts as surely as they were written on tablets of stone.

And the Codes of Hamurabi are emblazoned on our instincts as surely as they were on the pillars of Babylon four thousand years ago.

Every religion known to man proceeds from a belief in an intelligent Creator. Even the folks who believe we originated from a big bang would have to concede that before the bang there was the idea of the bang.

If the bang was inevitable, then the bang was not the beginning, being preceded by the conditions that led to the bang.

And if it was not inevitable, then it was the result of choice or decision.

Human beings are said to be made in the image and likeness of their Creator because we have the two faculties that are always ascribed to the Creator of the universe: intellect and free will.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness.

The never ending chase.

The striving. The searching. The climbing up. The reaching out.

The quest for the Holy Grail. The journey to the promised land.

California, you may know, is the only state that claims to be heaven on earth.

That’s true. The constitution of California says that all people have the right to pursue and to obtain happiness.

That might explain why so many people move to California.

And why the Golden State has a budget deficit of 16 billion dollars.

Too many people think that freedom means being able to do whatever you want to do.

But the pendulum of human history that swings back and forth between anarchy and dictatorship, as it does today in the Middle East, teaches the hard truth that there can be no true liberty without the rule of law.

And the massacre of innocent women and children at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut reminds us of the horror that lurks when freedom is disconnected from sanity.

President Dwight Eisenhower urged Americans to act in their “enlightened self interest.”

Pope John Paul II wrote that freedom is the right to do what we ought to do.

At its core, the science of law is the accumulation of human knowledge and experience about what people ought to do, how we ought to live,

The words of Justice Cooley announce from the side of the Temple Building in downtown Lansing, “Law students must always remember that they are preparing themselves to be ministers of justice.”

Justice is defined as giving to every man his due. To be a minister of justice, then, is to be concerned with the oughtness or the shouldness of things.

Common law judges do it all the time. Who ought to win the case? What ought to be done in these circumstances? What should happen in this factual situation?

Right and wrong are not determined by the flip of a coin, but by reason, logic, experience, knowledge and tradition.

You’ve read a lot of old cases in these last three years. Heard a lot of lectures and spent a lot of time debating with classmates and professors.

You know that there is more to law than you will find in Wikipedia.

The Law, they say, is a jealous mistress. But if you really love the law, I can promise it will be good to you.

It has been very good to me.

Which brings me to my third and final point.

The diploma you will receive today is from the Thomas Cooley Law School.

Forty years ago, nobody had ever heard of the Thomas Cooley Law School.

Today it is the largest accredited college of law in the United States.

Over the years, Cooley has built a reputation that, frankly. I’m very proud of.

It has always been known as the easiest law school to get into, and the hardest law school to graduate from.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a nice letter from a fellow who graduated in September of 2000. He is now the Senior attorney for the New York State Education Department, making four times his former salary as a police officer.

His letter said, “By the end of my first year, all of my close friends flunked out or left school. I used to joke that at Cooley, it’s not look to your left, look to your right, one of you won’t be here next year, it’s look to your left and look to your right, all three of you won’t be here next year.”

It’s not quite that bad, but I do remember a dermatologist telling me that Cooley is an excellent law school.

I asked him how he knew that.

He said he had a patient who went to Cooley and she was so nervous about her examinations she was losing her hair.

Of course, I was never in favor of making our students go bald, but it didn’t bother me when students complained about the difficulty of our program.

It was great public relations.

They were making the case in the community that Cooley was tough, demanding and professional, in spite of our liberal admissions policy.

Beginning that very first day, we were determined to make the American dream of opportunity a reality.

We very intentionally threw the front door wide open to every qualified college graduate who wanted to go to law school.

And from the very first day we always assured our students that no one would graduate from Cooley who did not measure up to the standards of professional excellence that were exemplified by our namesake, Thomas McIntyre Cooley.

You know, Cooley Law School educates more minority lawyers than any other law school in America.

And we have always done it without the kind of favoritism and discrimination that some schools use to create an artificial sense of diversity.

How do we do it?

The answer is simple. If you open the front door wide enough, you will get a cross section of the American people.

As you watch these graduates walk across the stage and hear their names announced, you will see what I mean.

These graduates are what America is all about. They are exceptional men and women who have worked and risked and sacrificed to earn their diplomas.

They will join a virtual army of nearly twenty thousand lawyers living and working from Poland to American Samoa; men and women who are proud of their Cooley diplomas, proud of their superior professional education and practical training, proud to be associated with like-minded graduates of Thomas Cooley.

Get on your computer and Google “Cooley Pride.”

You will see what I am talking about.

Forty years ago, Cooley was a Mom and Pop, do-it-yourself storefront operation.

My dear wife, Polly, sat behind a card table answering the phone and processing applications while I was out buying books and hiring law teachers.

About four in the afternoon on January 12, 1973, Polly decided to admit one more student.

So I had to run out and buy another student desk.

We began that first session when Lou Smith, the Secretary read the roll call, and asked each student to rise and tell us what degrees they had.

When he finished, I had a few words to say, and now as we celebrate forty years of legal education, I ask your indulgence as I read those few words:

“With unspeakable joy, I welcome you to the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Others will come after you. There will be many, many other first days and first nights. There will be many other times to remember and to relish and enjoy.

But none so sweet --

None so sweet as now.

We are here, all of us, because we believe.

Because we believe in ourselves.

Because we believe in each other.

And because we believe, whether we realize it or not, in a spirit which gives purpose and meaning to the things that men do quite beyond our poor capacity to understand or appreciate.

In time, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School will be a great and distinguished institution of higher learning.

And in that time, it will seem always to have been.

It will seem to have a life of its own, independent of its officers, its faculty, even its student body.

It will be seen and known in terms of its real estate, its library, its pension plan, its alumni, its publications, its corporate resources.

But the genesis of human achievement does not lie in corporate resources, or tangible, physical things.

It lies in the unique and God given capacity of the human spirit.

To envision what is not, but can be.

To embrace what is unfulfilled, and cause it to happen. To make an act of faith and turn unreality into reality.

It is given to all of us here tonight, as it is given to few men and women, to taste and feel and to know the power of human purpose.

And we shall remember.

But we shall remember too, despite our pride and satisfaction this night, that a long and difficult road lies before us.

As we go down that road, let us ask or permit no excuses of each other.

You have a right to expect that the Thomas M. Cooley Law School will embody all of the excellence in legal education that the great judge, scholar and teacher, Thomas McIntyre Cooley represents in the history and tradition of Michigan and American jurisprudence.

And we will expect no less of you than total absorption in the study of the law, total dedication to this institution, and a fierce, unyielding pride in what you are doing for yourselves and your future.

And in what all of us, together, are doing for those who will come after us.

It was, I must say now, as I look back, a rather prophetic night.

What I didn’t realize or expect that night was that three years later, the Cooley class would have a better passing rate on the Bar examination than the graduates of the University of Michigan.

One of the chores I took on in the early days was to compose a song; the Cooley Alma Mater.

It’s printed on the back of your programs and later you’ll hear a recording of it by the Michigan State University Chorale.

I don’t have any musical talent or experience. I had to number the keys on the piano with a magic marker in order to plunk out a tune.

But if you are going to compete with the University of Michigan you need a song.

Cooley has no football team, no marching band, no cheerleaders, but it does have a spirit that reflects the bonds of affection and dedication that have tied your class together over the last three years.

I like to think that the words of the song I wrote somehow reflect the way most of the members of the Alfred Moore Class feel today:

For …

Thomas Cooley, Alma Mater, Mighty Temple of the Law Where first we touched the face of justice Full of wonder, full of awe.

Thomas Cooley, Alma Mater, Reservoir of truth sublime Where first we tasted sweetest reason Learning wisdom grows with time.

We came to you in Michaelmas Different as the Autumn Trees And working grew in friendships through Snowbound Hillaries We’ll say farewell to Trinities Treasuring the memories

Of Thomas Cooley, Alma Mater As we wear your white and blue We proudly sing your highest praises Thomas Cooley, Hail to You!

4 comments:

  1. Dad it was a great speech and a great day I was glad to share it with you

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  2. Thanks for that Tom, what a great story! It is hard to argue against liberal admission and stringent academic standards. That promotes diversity without sacrificing the positive aspects of a meritocracy. Dick Selvala

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  3. Well said your honor!

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