Transcript Of 2017 Hooding Ceremony’s Class Speaker’s Speech
I am extremely honored to speak to you today. I came to law school more than 10 years after earning my undergraduate degree. With a wife and two small kids, I went right to work. But over these past three years there were several times when I would look up from my $500 text book and wonder, “Did I really sign up for this?” The more stressful it would get the better my old job would look. Professor O’Meara’s Professional Responsibility class didn’t help much either, with his constant reminders of lawyers being overworked and underpaid and the 1000 different ways you can be disbarred.
But each time I had thoughts of throwing in the towel, I would come back to one of the central reasons I came to law school, to be better equipped to help my family, my friends, and my community. And I believe that is what the practice of law is about. It is not so much about developing our knowledge of the law, which of course we all do, but it is about becoming servants. It is about learning to advocate for our clients. Professor Mangrum says when we are preparing for a trial, we should first get the case into our mind and then into our heart. To prepare cases that way I think it takes a real desire to give of ourselves to others. I saw that kind of sacrifice and service throughout my time here.
Some of my favorite memories of law school involve times when people here sacrificed themselves for someone else. One experience in particular stands out to me. As I remember it, it was after 6 p.m. the night before one of my final exams and while I was studying I realized I had a few questions I really felt like I needed answered before taking the test. Earlier in the semester the professor had given us his home phone number and told us we could call him if we had questions (the fact that he gave us his home number is just another example of things that make Creighton so unique). So, I called him. And amazingly, he answered. He then spent about an hour on the phone with me answering my questions and making sure I understood a concept that I was having trouble with. I walked into that test more confident and more prepared. I will never forget his sacrifice to help me.
Luckily, I didn’t always wait until the last minute to call the professor to ask questions. Many of my professors took time to sit one on one with me and answer my questions and help me along the way.
Although law school is a competitive place, I never saw an attitude of competition become mean-spirited. Even as we watched Quinn bring home one CALI award after another, no one got vindictive or mean. We may have thought about hiding his books. But I don’t think anyone ever did.
When it was appropriate, we worked together. When someone came late to a lecture or missed a class, we freely shared our notes. We worked in groups, shared outlines, and generally encouraged each other. We all just worked hard.
But even in the midst of the hard work, so many of my law school friends sacrificed their time and means by raising money for local charities, and serving in places like Sarpy County’s Teen Court and Habitat for Humanity. One of our classmates volunteers weekly helping Omaha youth in violent neighborhoods participate in wholesome activities. One cleans homes and cooks meals for the elderly.
One of our classmates even donated his bone marrow to a complete stranger who was suffering from cancer. And I am sure that each one of us students could give you an example of the kindness shown by the law school’s administration office assistant, Janet Bruning. I think every prospective student should have a chance to meet her.
Giving to others and serving has been more of the standard, with Creighton law students, rather than the exception. One of my mentors, Jay Kessler, graduated from Creighton School of Law in 1999. Rather than waiting to make a bunch of money first, just one year after graduating Jay started a free legal clinic primarily servicing the homeless. Throughout his career, he has dedicated at least half a day every week to pro bono work, in addition to running his own solo practice. Jay’s example is one of the reasons I came to law school.
No matter how each of us, graduating today, uses our law degree, I am confident that we will go into the world and make it a better place because I know how my colleagues treat other people.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, taught His original 12 apostles saying, “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23:11). What makes Creighton and the people here so great is the service and kindness they show to others.
The practice of law is a noble profession. It is noble because the law is greater than all of us, and as lawyers we are able to shape it in ways that may be small or big. I also think it is noble because we are able to help others with problems they cannot solve by themselves. Problems that may affect their family, their livelihood, or even their liberty.
As we serve with integrity and diligence we become great. Not because we are better, but because of what we are doing for others. Because of our compassion, sacrifice, and service we are lifting others; we are improving our family, our community, our nation, and our world.
Written by Joshua M. DeVard and delivered at the Creighton University School of Law hooding ceremony on May 11, 2017.