The University of Miami has two speakers at its commencement ceremony.
One is the “Advice to Graduates” given by someone with great experience of the legal system — usually but not always a senior lawyer or judge, sometimes a politician, once a reporter with extensive experience covering the Supreme Court.
The other is a student speaker, chosen from among self-selected applicants by a committee comprised of students, administrators, and the odd faculty member.
This year, the role of wise elder was played by Carolyn Lamm, one of our more distinguished alumni, who in addition to being a Partner at White & Case is also about to become the President-Elect of the ABA.
The student speaker this year was Christopher Lomax. He gave what is undoubtedly the best student speech I've heard in the 15 years I've been going to UM Law commencement exercises.
I've taken the liberty of reprinting it below. (As you might expect from a Moot Court champ, the delivery was excellent too.) You can also see the video — Mr. Lomax's speech is towards the end at 1:48 in the web cast.
Christopher Lomax, Student Speaker,
University of Miami School of Law, J.D. ‘08
Good Afternoon. President Shalala, Dean Lynch, Distinguished Faculty and Administration, friends, family, and members of the class of 2008. I am honored at a level beyond belief to share these moments with you. These are the times in life that we relish. These are the moments fashioned with great anticipation. Yet, the final scene of a movie is only as good as the captivating moments that lead up to it.
August 22, 2005 was the first day that I met many of you. I recall that day because it was our first full day of class. Those of you in Sections B and C will recall that our day began at 8:00 a.m. in room 309, under the tutelage of the revered and feared Professor Anthony Alfieri. We had all been made aware of his execution styled questioning under the Socratic Method, and many of us cringed at the thought of being called on early in the semester. Well, I and my now dear friend Mindy Reinstein had the honor of being the first two people called on. Professor Alfieri told the class that Mindy and I were “On Trial”, which meant that we had to go stand at a podium in the back of the room and field questions. Mindy and I had never met, never spoken with each other, but we immediately formed a united front. Professor Alfieri looked up from his lectern and said; “Mr. Lomax, where does the law come from?”
I thought to myself, and a million possible answers crossed my mind; but none of them seemed to be something that I could acceptably utter to this man, clad in his immaculately tailored suit, with matching shoes and suspenders. So, I looked at Mindy, and she looked back at me with her eyebrows raised, as a silent indication of uncertainty. Eventually, I gave him what I believed what was an appropriate and intelligent response. But alas, he wasn’t satisfied; so if anyone out there knows where the law comes from please find me after this ceremony because I still owe that man an answer.
As you can see, we made it through that first day of class, and here we are some three years later.
Well, what have we learned? We have learned how to read cases and write law school exams. We’ve learned to use the bluebook, sub check law review articles, and draft legal briefs and memoranda. We’ve learned how to network and to forge lasting relationships with members of the legal community. We’ve learned how to conduct ourselves in job interviews. We’ve learned the trends of the United States Supreme Court, and the political ideologies of current and former Justices. We’ve learned terms like binding precedent, obitur dictum, res ipsa loquitor and stare decisis. We can eloquently discuss the implications of analyzing a statute under strict scrutiny as opposed to rational basis; and if we try hard enough, we may even figure out what Chevron deference actually means. All of these things are great, but what have WE learned, specifically as students at the University of Miami.
We learned to cope with the rigors of the first semester of law school while trying to survive through hurricanes Wilma, Rita, and Katrina. We learned to be civil, cordial, and benevolent to students from Tulane University School of Law, and Loyola Law School in New Orleans, when they were displaced during such a challenging time in their lives. We gave them our notes, we shared our outlines, we invited them into our homes, and we encouraged them when they had nothing to hold onto besides the enduring hope of attaining their law degrees. We admired them for their persistence and unwillingness to allow a Hurricane to thwart their dreams of becoming attorneys. The irony of life is that often times, the things that illicit the greatest challenges, are the catalysts for our greatest triumphs. A hurricane in New Orleans destroyed our colleagues’ homes and schools, but a group of Hurricanes, you guys, Miami Hurricanes gave them hope and an opportunity to overcome. And moments ago, several of them crossed this stage and received their law degree.
What else have we learned? We learned that one person’s success does not necessarily come at the expense of another’s failure. We have all had a measure of success, not because we’ve trampled one another in an effort to reach the front of the line. Rather because we have pushed one another towards that line in hopes that we would reach it together. I submit to you that each of us has reached that line, in some way, shape or form.
Be that in the spirit of winning a competition, booking a class, writing the best brief, securing a highly coveted clerkship, or landing a job with a large law firm. For some of you, like myself, the fact that you are here today defies all mathematical probability. Statistics say that many of you were not supposed to make it here today. And there has been a recent buzz on campus about rankings, another statistic; But I’ve come to tell you today that statistics aren’t everything. Allow me to share some statistics with you. For African American males born around 1983 like me, the statistics would tell you that there was a greater probability that I would be in jail or dead at the age of 25. But I stand before you alive and well, blood flowing warm through my veins, moments away from receiving a degree that means more to me than any statistic I’ve ever read. Statistics also say that a person like me, who LSAT score was average at best, would either not graduate, or graduate towards the bottom of the class. Today I’m graduating with honors. So, I’m glad that the University of Miami saw more than a statistic when they read my application. They gave me all I needed, and that was just a shot. And many of you were given the same.
The admissions committee saw at least some level of potential in this music major, raised in the inner city, with a dream of becoming a trial attorney. Well, admissions committee, I’m proud to say that I didn’t let you down. I have done my best to stay the course and be the best law student that I could be. I believe we all have. We worked hard and became members of the Moot Court Board. We tried our hands at writing a case note and were selected as candidates for law journals. We've represented our University at numerous competitions and have brought home trophy after trophy. As a class, we participated in Helping Others through Pro Bono Efforts; we sponsored toy drives, book drives, and we’ve tutored inner city youth. Many of you have served as a guardians at litem; others have worked on issues in immigration and child advocacy; some have even defended the health rights of individuals with HIV and AIDS. A group of you formed an organization called Lawful Productions and raised 37 thousands dollars to be donated to charity. You should all be commended.
Nevertheless, all of our victories and accomplishments won’t mean much if we don’t continue our pursuit of excellence with the same passion and fervor that you’ve all exemplified during these three wonderful years. Not every moment was easy. You stayed up late and woke up early. You sacrificed your weekends and you forced yourself to keep pushing even when fatigue objected. Your bodied wanted to sustain that objection at times, but your heart and your mind said “Objection Overruled.” What I’m talking to you about now is your uncommon relentlessness. They say that we are living in uncommon times. Uncommon times call for uncommon people to do uncommon things to achieve uncommon results. But, I believe in the notion that all times are uncommon. 1808 was uncommon to those who lived in the 1700. 1908 was uncommon to those who lived in the 1800 and the year 2008 is uncommon in its own right. If you don’t believe that, just go to the gas station. But, the tie that binds all times are the people that make the most of the time they spend here on Earth.
Like the Albanian Roman Catholic woman who experienced “The Call within the Call.” She responded to the call by birthing an organization called the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. At the time of her death, her organization was operating 610 missions in 123 countries. You know her as Mother Theresa.
Or that little boy from Atlanta, Georgia who went off to college at the age of 15, earned his Ph.D from Boston University, organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We all know him as Martin Luther King, Jr.
And So: My charge to you is to find the greatness within yourself. Classmates, for three years, I have been amazed by your intelligence, your diverse backgrounds, and your willingness to learn from one another. It has been an honor and a privilege to sit next to you in class, to cheer with you at Hurricane football games, socializing with you every other Thursday at beer at the rat or at Tommy Wang’s Chinese New Year parties. I’m astounded by your potential and I look forward to witnessing thefruition of your greatness. So for those things, I thank you. And I ask you to remember me when one of you goes on to become the next President of the Florida Bar or follows in the footsteps of Mrs. Lamm in leading the American Bar Association. Or, when another one of you is appointed to the State or Federal Bench. Or when another one of you creates an organization for underprivileged youth. And in return, I pledge to never forget you. If I were to say the names of each person in this class that touched my life we would be here all day.
So, I encourage you to use these days to reflect upon all of the individuals who have touched you throughout your lives.
Thank you to all of the mothers out there who made us believe that we could do and be anything. Thank you to all of the fathers who have been there throughout the years, encouraging us to do our very best.
Thank you to all of the grandparents, for spoiling us during the summers.
To all of the sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles for your support and encouragement, we say thank you. We say thank you to all of the Friends, Partners, Spouses and Children who have always been a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear.
As I go to my seat, I congratulate you all and leave you with a spirit of encouragement. The World is depending on you. Go forward and walk with your heads held high. Play to win, but play the right way. Use your gifts and talents in an uncommon way, so that an uncommon reality will arise. We are an uncommon class, graduating from an uncommon University in an uncommon part of America; Where no language is common, but all languages are understood because the universal languages of acceptance, hope and understanding resound loudly above the words, and will reverberate from generation to generation.
Thank you, God Bless, and congratulations to the class of 2008.