Thank you, Dean Larry Kramer, for your kind words – and for welcoming me to this beautiful campus. It is a privilege to join with you, with so many faculty and board members, administrators, alumni, and students – and, of course, with Bill Neukom and his family – as we dedicate this new building in his honor.
Although more than four decades have passed since Bill was a Stanford Law School student – and, from what I hear, the star of its intramural basketball team – his love for, and his dedication to, his alma mater has never wavered or waned. In fact, long before construction of the William H. Neukom Building began, Bill’s many contributions have been felt across this campus. And at every step in his remarkable career – whether he was working as a bailiff or as a CEO, as an associate attorney or as an advisor to a fledging little start-up called Microsoft – Bill has always been an enthusiastic ambassador for this law school.
Today, as one of the nation’s most distinguished and admired attorneys, he consistently credits Stanford with inspiring his deep commitment to public service – and his belief that lawyers have a unique ability, as well as a unique responsibility, to assist others. That belief has galvanized Bill’s work to expand access to our nation’s justice system – and to strengthen the rule of law and defend human rights worldwide. By launching the World Justice Project and the Neukom Family Foundation, by supporting numerous nonprofit and advocacy organizations, by calling on our nation’s legal community to expand pro bono and public interest activities, and by challenging all lawyers to seek out opportunities to assist people and communities in need – Bill has been a leader in ensuring opportunity and justice for all.
Without question, his commitment to public service is extraordinary. But, as a Stanford Law alumnus, it is hardly unusual. Generations of young people have graduated from this law school – not only with a first-rate education, but also with a deeply-ingrained passion to right wrongs, to improve lives, and to protect and empower our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Public service is not only a key part of Stanford’s curriculum – it is a central component of this law school’s culture, its DNA. And we can all be encouraged that, today, this tradition is stronger than ever.
For many of the students here, public service is not just a personal and professional priority – it is an integral part of your daily lives. Each year, Stanford Law students take advantage of a broad range of public service opportunities – and complete thousands of hours of clinical work.
They are providing essential help to vulnerable tenants, seniors, patients, and crime victims – as well as struggling nonprofits and businesses. They’re working to advance rule of law efforts and to develop educational resources in Afghanistan, Bhutan, and East Timor; monitoring prison conditions in Los Angeles County; evaluating state foster care and juvenile justice systems; supporting litigation efforts to protect the environment and to relieve overburdened immigration courts; and advancing the critical work of United States Attorneys’ and Public Defender Offices across the country.
As we’ve seen in recent years, Stanford graduates are increasingly pursuing careers in public service. In fact, this year’s graduating class will include the largest group of Public Interest Fellows in the history of the program.
I’m especially grateful – and proud – that the Department of Justice team includes, and has included, a number of Stanford alums – including Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who leads the Department’s Civil Division and who I’m glad could be with us today. All across the Department, in fact, Stanford Law School graduates are doing extraordinary work. They’re helping to safeguard our communities and our fellow citizens; to protect the rights of voters, veterans, soldiers, workers, students, and Americans with disabilities; to ensure that every American has the ability to access legal services – and the right to practice his or her faith without the fear of violence or prejudice; to combat hate crimes, human trafficking, and child exploitation; and to ensure fairness in our housing and lending markets.
While this is impressive, it is little surprise to anyone that Stanford alumni are making extraordinary contributions across government and the public sector – and finding ways to strengthen this school’s long tradition of service, action, and activism.
Since 1893, when former President Benjamin Harrison taught Stanford’s very first legal class, this University’s students and alumni have been among our nation’s most vocal advocates for social justice and civil rights. And although the doors of opportunity are open far wider now than they were when this law school was established, or at the height of the Civil Rights movement – when Bill Neukom was a student on this campus – today, our nation’s struggle for equal justice and equal opportunity continues. And our quest to make certain that government action is consistent with the rule of law endures.
Despite the progress that we have made as a nation, intolerance and injustice persist in far too many communities. Divisions and disparities remain. And discrimination and hate-fueled violence, unfortunately, are all too common in too many places.
This means that all of you – who stand among America’s best and brightest legal minds – have some important choices to make. And, as Stanford students and alumni, you also have critical responsibilities to fulfill. You not only have a school legacy to extend, you have a nation’s future to build. Always remember, that – with fidelity to this school’s defining principles – our greatest dreams are not beyond our capabilities. And our goals are not beyond our lifetimes.
In creating a future of service and of justice, also remember that this work can, and must, take many forms – acts of compassion and dissent; campaign battles and courtroom trials; elections, investigations, and protests. But no matter the form, it always begins the same way: with a simple action, by a hopeful person. Never doubt that it can begin with you.
Now, it may not always be easy. As you’ve already learned in your clinics, internships, and pro bono activities – the work that you take up may not be glamorous. Progress may not come as quickly as you would like. You may have to seek out, even create, service opportunities on your own.
But I urge you to do just that. Keep finding ways to contribute. Keep finding ways to meet your goals as well as your responsibilities. That is what this school has always stood for: training lawyers – not only to be successful, but to serve as examples for others, and to be reminders about the importance – and the power – of giving back. To not only do well, but also to do good.
Whether you eventually lead movements, decide cases from the bench, return to the classroom to teach, run for office, advise clients, or defend the accused, you can – and you will – define the future of this country. This is your destiny. You may choose to offer input into how our nation is going to combat crime, protect our national security, strengthen our education system, safeguard the environment, uphold civil rights, or ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to access legal services. Or you may work – and even fight – to make certain that our nation’s actions are consistent with the values that have distinguished – and always must define – the United States.
But no matter where your career path takes you, each of you can – and all of you must – find ways to call on our country to aim higher, to become better, and to do more for those who need our help most.
Although I can assure you that your contributions and your service are needed, I cannot tell you – students or alumni – exactly what work you should pursue or precisely what role you should fulfill. That is for you to discover. But I will encourage you to follow Bill Neukom’s example – to seek out mentors who can help you find your calling, and to pursue opportunities that will allow you to explore your passions, hone your skills, and fulfill your potential – as well as your duties and obligations.
Today, we can all be encouraged that this new building – which will house many of Stanford Law School’s thriving legal clinics – will be an incubator for innovative solutions and transformative ideas. Just as Bill Neukom envisioned, it will serve as a forum for unprecedented collaboration, and as a training ground for tomorrow’s lawyers and leaders.
So, this afternoon, as we dedicate the William H. Neukom Building, let us also rededicate ourselves to supporting future generations of Stanford students and alumni – and to encouraging and advancing the contributions that they will surely make, and the progress that they – no doubt – will lead. Just as surely as it has in the past, in the future, our great nation will look to this institution – and to the lawyers who have graced this campus – for direction and leadership. The building we now dedicate is the embodiment of an idea – a vision of all that is, and can be, good in the legal profession. So, on this day, let us pledge to make that vision a reality for ourselves – and for future generations.