2011 Commencement Speech: James Swan

To the Class of 2011, I congratulate you on this momentous occasion. We have endured long hours of study, felt the crushing weight of exam preparation, and struggled to make our best arguments in class, sometimes wondering whether this day would ever arrive. But here we are today. This occasion gives us the opportunity to look back with gratitude and to look forward with humility, recognizing the great responsibility that comes with being a graduate of the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

First, we must all acknowledge the efforts of those who have surrounded us during this law school experience. To the deans, the faculty, and the staff, we are grateful for the countless hours you have dedicated to our education for the past three years. You have opened your office doors to us and provided us with the individual attention that makes this law school both unique and special. To our families, friends, and loved ones, your patience, love, and support make this achievement equally yours. You have put up with our absence, lifted our spirits, and pushed us forward to achieve this goal. Finally, to my fellow classmates, we have lifted each other, learned from each other, and forged lasting relationships. We have grown and matured while debating the important issues of the day. In short, this achievement today is truly the result of the collective efforts of many of you in the audience today. So to you we give our sincerest gratitude and thanks.

Second, we take this opportunity to look forward with humility. While the outstanding education we have received here will open many doors, the words of a great superhero sound an appropriate warning: “With great power comes great responsibility.”  When our education and knowledge are used for good, we can be a powerful force for promoting the ideals of freedom and the rule of law. Our highest duty is to be the watchdogs and protectors of freedom. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, one character stated, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”[1] Recently retired Justice John Paul Stevens remarked that this line is often misunderstood.[2] Justice Stevens goes on to say that this statement “was spoken by a rebel, not a friend of liberty.  As a careful reading of that text will reveal, Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government.”[3] As future lawyers, we will defend those accused of crimes, we will prosecute accused criminals, we will help a budding entrepreneur turn their dream into a viable business, we will help individuals and families plan for the future, and we will fight for the rights of the underprivileged, the unpopular, and the persecuted.  The great importance of these responsibilities is humbling indeed.

In conclusion, may we all reflect this day on the many who have loved, sacrificed, instructed, and supported us along the path to this achievement. May we embrace the responsibilities that come with being a graduate of the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

[1] W. Shakespeare, King Henry VI, pt. II, Act IV, scene 2, line 72

[2] Walters v. Nat’l Ass’n of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305, 371 n.24 (Stevens, J., dissenting).

[3] Id.