Date: May 21, 2014
Location: The Kimmel Centre for Performing Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Time Check: 14.00 Hours ET
We were all suited and seated at the appointed time. We were here to participate in the joys of parenthood – the graduation of our children, brothers and sisters. The American, like only they can do, call it ‘Commencement’. Maybe we would find out soon.
The ceremony got underway on time (emphasis mine), and as soon as the preliminaries were dispensed with, the business at hand took centre stage. Two outstanding achievers were awarded honorary doctorates. Ambassador Earle Mack and the Honourable Thomas Perez, US Secretary for Labour. The latter was also tasked to deliver the ‘commencement speech’. He did a brilliant job in seven minutes flat and I suddenly realized from a different perspective, the soft things that make America great – great thinkers and great orators, not just big men. Here is what he had to say, and I paraphrase of course.
Congratulations to you the graduands, congratulations to your parents and to the faculty of the law school. I can imagine the number of hours and sleepless nights it has taken you to get here. Deadlines you had to keep and briefs you had to rewrite. But today, you start on another journey. As you commence this interesting journey in life, there are three things I want to share with you.
1) The ‘wisdom’ of failure
2) The fierce urgency of now
3) Justice and responsibility
I have known failure in many ways. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I couldn’t have imagined the dire straits I would face because of my parents ill health and early death of my father. But I suppose my most outstanding failure was when I ran for the office of the Maryland Attorney General. My opponents went to court and a few days to the election I was disqualified. Everyone had bet on me and I was the frontrunner (or so I presumed) but here I was defeated and deflated. I guess the best part of failing is the wisdom failure imbues you with. They never teach that in Law School. Never fear to fail, for without failure, your success will never have context.
The second point I want to talk about is the ‘urgency’ of now. This is an existential moment. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that is why we call it the present. Life is an orchestra of opportunity. We may play different instruments, but we are on the same team. So please seize the moment and go do what you have to do. Write your obituary now. Do not throw away this moment through procrastination, for it is the thief of time. Go out and do what you believe in and ought to be doing for the good of society.
My third and last point is about justice and responsibility to society. Your education here at Drexel has given you immense privilege. As you go out in the world, remember the huge burden of the power you will bear over others’ lives. Be just and responsible for there are so many injustices occasioned by our irresponsibility. To know the law is to be privileged. Use that privilege for the good of mankind.
In whatever you do, be passionate, be persistent, and be parents and partners. Plug away, I dare say. I thank you so much and congratulations once again to you all, graduating class of 2014.