Thank you, Ron. I appreciate those kind words, and I want to thank you and President Bogomolny – along with all of the faculty members, administrators, and students who are here with us today – for welcoming me to this vibrant campus, with your dramatic new Law School building under construction. It’s a pleasure to be here. And, especially during this historic week, it’s a privilege to be joined by so many current – and future – leaders of our nation’s legal community – men and women who will help to shape America’s course and to bring Americans together.
As members of this law school community, you are well – and uniquely – suited for such endeavors. History proves this. For more than eight decades, the University of Baltimore School of Law has served as an important meeting ground – where issues of consequence are discussed and addressed. It’s also become known as a training ground for distinguished attorneys, jurists, advocates, policymakers, and public servants. The track record you’ve built, and the reputation you’ve established, are impressive. And, with students like all of you – and educators like the outstanding professors who are with us today, including your new Dean – it’s easy to see why.
As you just heard, I had the pleasure of working closely with Ron during his tenure at the Justice Department, where he served as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs – a role widely considered to be one of the hardest jobs in all of government. That was especially true over the last three years. But our roots – and shared experiences – run even deeper. Ron and I are both native New Yorkers. We attended rival high schools – and both went to Columbia University as undergraduates.
To anyone who knows Ron, it’s clear that he is deeply grateful for the first-rate education that he received – from the second-best high school in New York, from Columbia, and from Yale Law School. And he recognizes that these learning opportunities paved the way for the remarkable career he has built – in private practice; on Capitol Hill, as chief counsel to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and as principal legal advisor to the U.S. Senate Majority Leader; at our nation’s Justice Department; and, now, in academia. He also understands that with these extraordinary opportunities come important obligations – to help others recognize and realize their potential. This is why Ron is here. And this is what motivates his efforts to support the kind of inclusive academic environment – and foster the robust discussion and debate – for which this University has become known. Although we miss him in Washington, I can think of no one better to help train the next generation of lawyers, leaders, advocates, and public servants – whose service, and contributions, will help to keep the great American experiment in motion – and ensure that our nation can continue to carry out, and live up to, its founding ideals.
T he country we have inherited has been defined by the hard work and tremendous courage of those who, throughout our history, have chosen not just to devote themselves to studying the law, but also to advancing the cause of justice. These brave individuals – armed with the same training that you’re receiving – have served on the front lines of national efforts to abolish slavery and segregation, to guarantee decent wages for our workers, and to secure fundamental civil rights protections for all – regardless of race, religion, gender, economic means, social status, or sexual orientation. They’ve helped to draft – and safeguard – our founding documents; to shape – and improve – the greatest legal system in the world; and to maintain the strength and integrity of our most sacred institutions by securing, and expanding, the most basic right of American citizenship – the right to vote.
These are the issues that must continue to unite our profession – and our nation. Despite the divisions we may have felt in recent months, and the fierceness with which this year’s campaigns were contested, I am convinced that that the American people will come together, as they always have in times of difficulty, to advance the aspirations, and to honor the values, we share. Starting this week, we face a uniquely democratic moment of both healing and renewal – a time when all Americans, and especially our elected leaders, are called upon to join forces once again; to meet common challenges with shared resolve; and to carry forward the critical work that has always driven our pursuit of a more perfect Union.
As aspiring stewards of the law – and servants of those whom it protects and empowers –the students in this room have made an important commitment, and taken on very serious responsibilities. Already, you’re putting your legal training to work in assisting vulnerable tenants, disabled students , disadvantaged patients, and victims of crime – as well as nonprofits and neighborhood organizations. And you’re striving to realize the vision that has always shaped this University’s unique culture, and defined it as an institution founded on community involvement, dedicated to serving the public interest, and determined to foster increased diversity.
Along the way, you’re learning to build relationships with your peers and to engage in respectful debates with one another. You’re identifying the best ways to right wrongs, to address disparities, and to formulate solutions for problems that span across regions and even around the globe. And soon – whether you choose to build a career in private practice, join a corporation, teach, serve in government, or even run for public office – all of you will be called upon to fulfill the ideal that has always been at the center of your legal education and the heart of your chosen profession: not merely to serve clients or win cases, but to do justice.
I realize that’s an intimidating thought. But the fact that you’re here today proves that you’re not only up to the challenges that lie ahead – you welcome the chance to confront them. And that’s why I urge you to make a habit of public service; to seek to improve the lives of those around you; and to do everything in your power to help make your communities, and your country, stronger.
Despite the tremendous advances that have been made over the course of our nation’s history – and even within my lifetime – the reality is that significant obstacles, persistent disparities, and evolving threats remain before us. And you don’t have to look far to find them.
Today, in too many American neighborhoods, including many here in Baltimore, young people – especially young men of color – are more likely to be murdered than to die by any other cause. A majority of our children – 60 percent of them – have been exposed to violence at some point in their lives, either as victims or as witnesses. In total, more than 50 million Americans are eligible for federally-funded legal aid – but most cannot access it. Nearly 80 percent of civil legal needs go unmet. Countless lives and communities are devastated each year by fraud targeting homeowners, investors, and those who rely on essential federal health care programs. And systemic threats – from terrorism to climate change – continue to challenge our society, to endanger our people, and to spark conflict and division around the world.
These are just a few of the challenges that America’s current and future leaders will be called upon to address and overcome. There’s no question that they are daunting. And the stakes could hardly be higher. But you’ve been given a rare opportunity – the chance to make a profound difference. And, here at the University of Baltimore, you’re gaining the tools you’ll need to do just that.
Armed with the skills and knowledge that only a world-class legal education can confer –I’m certain that each of you soon will find that, just as surely as you’re coming of age in a moment of great consequence, you stand poised to lead our nation’s legal profession, and justice system, at a time of extraordinary promise.
In these efforts, I am proud to count each of you as partners. And, as our nation looks toward a new chapter in its history, you make me feel optimistic about the days ahead. I look forward to all that you must – and surely will – achieve together. And I want you to know that I am counting on you all – and that includes you, Dean Weich.