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Brad Meltzer, AB '92, to MLaw Grads: Step off the Escalator

Brad M​eltzer, AB '92, to MLaw Grads: Step off the Escalator

By Amy Spooner
May 11, 2016

As the Michigan Law Class of 2016 celebrated their transition from students to alumni, Senior Day speaker Brad Meltzer, AB '92, warned them not to go through the next stage of their careers on autopilot. While riding the ascending escalator of getting good grades and test scores and getting into good colleges and law schools has served the students well, as graduates they must have the courage to follow their own unique paths to happiness. "Today, your life is a trapeze, not an escalator," Meltzer said. "It is time for you to jump, to make that leap toward being your most authentic selves."

Meltzer, a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and host of two shows on The History Channel, encouraged Michigan Law's newest alumni to follow careers that make them happy. "At your 10-year reunion, I want you to be in that group that loves their work," he said. Meltzer said the key to doing so requires "the greatest risk you'll ever take in your life … admitting what you want." While it might sound simple, Meltzer warned that the pressure to conform and to keep pace with others' career trajectories can make the journey difficult.

In order for graduates to be able to admit what they really want, Meltzer advised them to always remember what they love and to be motivated by what scares them. After his first novel received 24 rejection letters, Meltzer told the audience that he took a step back and realized that his favorite class at Columbia Law School taught the inner workings of the U.S. Supreme Court. So he wrote his second novel, The Tenth Justice, about a Supreme Court clerk who accidentally leaked a forthcoming decision. It became Meltzer's first published work. "That passion for what I was working on allowed me to look past the previous rejections," he said. At the same time, he had to embrace his fear of failure and instability. "Fear and anger tell you that you care, so turn those emotions into rocket fuel. Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength."

The third step toward admitting what you really want is to remember what brought you to Michigan Law in the first place, Meltzer told the audience. "You have a degree that will serve you forever. Everyone has the right to a lawyer, but not everyone has the right to you. You get to decide who you give your talents to."

View the video of the 2016 Senior Day ceremony

View Brad Meltzer's speech

U-M Regent Mark Bernstein, AB '93, JD/MBA '96, introduced Meltzer, a close friend since their undergraduate student days, and offered congratulations on behalf of the Board of Regents. Bernstein encouraged graduates to remember, "It's not your degree that's important; it's what you do with it. What matters is the lives that you change, the societal impact you make with the degree that you earned. And of equal importance is how you make that change and how you conduct yourself as attorneys."

As Rebecca Salley, a member of the Class of 2016, pointed out in her remarks, the possibilities to make an impact are endless. "In your lives as lawyers, I hope each of you finds personal fulfillment and professional success, whether you'll be a master of deal-making, a professor or a policy wonk, a defender of the indigent, or anything in between. But the remarkable education we have received at the University of Michigan Law School has prepared us for service beyond ourselves. It has prepared us to address the most pressing problems of the day."

During the ceremony, the candidates for juris doctor, master of laws, and master of laws in international tax degrees were hooded and received their certificates of Lawyers Club membership. In addition, Dean Mark West recognized the recipients of the three top awards that the Law School presents to graduating students. Cari Carson, Megan DeMarco, and Megan Richardson (a December 2015 graduate) received the Irving Stenn Jr. Award, which is given to students who have demonstrated leadership and contributed through extracurricular activities to the well-being and strength of the Law School. The Jane L. Mixer Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to advancing the cause of social justice was presented to Peter Calloway, Amanda Merkwae, and Miriam Schachter. Recipients of the Henry M. Bates Memorial Scholarship Award, which is widely held to be the Law School's highest honor, were Jennifer Fischell and Jessica Gingold.

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