Shai Gonzales, Class Speaker, Class of 2019
Shai Gonzales, Class Speaker, Class of 2019

I am honored by the opportunity to speak on behalf of my class.  When I learned I might have this opportunity I couldn’t help but be a little nervous.  Nervous in this respect: would my words be enough? So, I contemplated all of the things that I assumed made a decent speech.  How many cliché quotes should I throw in?  I mean, all due respect to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, but could I really tell all of my classmates to “go forth and set the world fire,” with a straight face? All while knowing in our logical minds, steeped in legal education, that setting anything on fire is a crime.  And really, doesn’t that all seem a little too intense for law school graduates?  Would I call this a “journey” as if we have been on some adventurous and fun-filled path to success – when we all know that is the furthest thing from the truth?  Would I throw my fist in the air in some strange “breakfast club” style display of unity?  How many awkward jokes are too many? Most importantly, how much time should I really spend talking about my pre-speech writing train of thought? 

All jokes aside, I found myself wondering if I could find the words that would adequately convey the shared experience of my entire class.  Our truths, our anxieties, our triumphs, and our pride.  Did I have anything truly inspiring to say?  Would my words capture the collective greatness and obvious struggle that allowed us to reach this moment here today?  

The last time I stood in front of others and spoke of someone else’s truth was about a year and a half before I came to law school, at a memorial for my dad.  I’m not disclosing this as a way to introduce a speech that contains only my experience and my story.  I’m disclosing it simply to say that writing a speech in remembrance of his life has framed the speech I will deliver here today in a very important way; that when speaking on behalf of others and sharing their experiences it is vital to continually try to find and convey their truths, and not just the truth as filtered through the mind of the speaker.  And that is what I seek to do here today: to tell our shared truth, to represent my colleagues in the most honest way, to acknowledge the hardships we have faced and the successes we have enjoyed.  Before I do so, I do not want to forget to mention that there are many here that have had a direct hand in our successes.  There are family, friends, and faculty without which we would not be sitting here today.  We are immensely grateful and hope you know that we could not have been here without you.  Thank you for everything you have done and everything you continue to do. 

However, my speech today is for all of you, my classmates – the remarkable women and men I have had the privilege of studying and learning alongside for the last three years.  I hope the words that I have found are enough to do you all justice. 

Now, first, I just want to say that I am confident that I can speak on the topic the law school struggle with some conviction because I learned pretty early on that the torture is universal.  I went home for Thanksgiving 1L year and ran into someone I knew in high school.  We were acquaintances, at most.  She told me she was a first year associate.  I looked at her with wide, exhausted, almost-defeated eyes and told her I was in my first year of law school and two weeks away from my first exams.  Then, she gave me the most knowing look I have ever experienced.  Its like suddenly we were connected on a cosmic level.  She knew the struggle.  In that moment she knew me, she saw me, and she understood me.  Sounds pretty intense, right?  Well, it was.  I must say that seeing living, breathing proof that it was possible to come out on the other side of this kept me going for like, at least, another two weeks.  Then I had to draw some inspiration from those who knew the struggle best, the amazing women and men that sit before you. 

To say law school is hard does not even come close to capturing the sheer mind-boggling struggle that law school can be at times.  That simple phrase leaves out all of the important details. What is missing from that phrase is all of the hours that are sacrificed reading, outlining, and testing.  That phrase also leaves out the numerous times you end up questioning your decision to go to law school in the first place.  

What is also not discussed prior to law school is the torture of the countless hours you spend trying to truly know something and, ultimately, worry you have completely misunderstood.  But, by the time you have a moment to even contemplate what you do or do not actually understand, it is too late and already time for the final.  

I hope that a brief trip into the mind of a law student will provide some insight.  You study for the exam, and during this time you have moments where you contemplate small things, like your entire identity and your choices.  You seriously consider running away.  But, somehow you find yourself walking into take the exam anyway, despite the fact that all of your instincts are telling you that this whole thing is a huge burden and mistake.  You sit down, you try to ignore the what if thoughts.  What if I just gave up?  What if I just quit today?  I mean this isn’t something I actually HAVE to do is it?  I could just stop.  I could try to find some way to utilize my bachelor’s in political science, right?  But, ultimately, you sit there for three hours, frantically typing or writing and attempting to answer questions that you are never quite sure about.  Then, when its all over, instead of throwing your hands up in surrender, you think to yourself: “I hope I did enough.  I hope I studied enough. I hope I knew enough.  I hope I am enough.”

You see, law school is a crash course in overcoming a thousand small defeats and having the will to continue.

As legal scholars we find ourselves attempting to understand and navigate legal concepts, theories, and processes all in the name of providing a service to others.  Our service is the art of problem solving, which I found is an art that requires a special kind of person.  The kind of person that accepts the struggle.  Takes it in stride.  Not always gracefully, that would be impossible, but who keeps trying any way.  The kind of person that will put all of that determination into solving someone else’s problem.  A person that will not stop searching for the solution even when it seems the answer does not exist.  The kind of person who is constantly aware of the possibility of giving up and the ease that decision would bring, but chooses to keep going every single time.  That is what makes my classmates so incredible.  That is why they are the inspiration that I would come back to when I felt like I would literally rather go forth and set myself on fire than sit in another exam. 

Some may call it being stubborn, slightly unrealistic, and maybe even a tiny bit insane.  But we chose this path.  I’d like to say we crossed the finish line in some glamorous and heroic fashion, but it felt more like crawling across that finish line with a few broken limbs.  But, guess what?  We crossed that finish line all the same.  It was enough.  We did enough.  We are enough.