By John MassonMay 7, 2012
Exhorting the Class of 2012 to take up the weighty responsibilities of a rapidly changing world, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder welcomed 341 fresh Michigan Law degree holders to new roles in the legal profession Sunday afternoon.
"Very soon, you will learn that times of difficulty, of novel questions and new tests, are the most exciting, consequential times to be a lawyer," Holder told the seniors. "Since our nation's earliest days, the service and contributions of attorneys—and very often of young attorneys—have kept our great American experiment in motion."
Holder focused heavily on public service during his talk to the graduates and a packed Hill Auditorium. He noted that one quarter of the 303 2012 JD candidates seated before him had chosen to follow the public service path.
Watch a video of Senior Day.
But before that, the talk featured the usual banter between Law School Dean Evan Caminker and the guest speakers. Practically everyone made fun of Caminker's famously coiffed hair—including Caminker himself, who also poked good-natured fun at elected student speaker Stephen Gilson.
"I'm told he has spent more time working on his hairdo here than working on anything else," Caminker said, in introducing Gilson. "Not that I would know anything personally about that."
Gilson called on the experience of three years of Socratic, Law School grilling to fire right back.
"Dean Caminker, thanks a lot—that means a lot to me, coming from my personal hair hero," Gilson said. Then, reaching for the be-tassled purple beret on his head, he looked out at the audience. "On the recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States of America, I'm losing the tam."
But Gilson had heavier themes in mind, as well. Plans for his mother to attend Senior Day were derailed when she suffered a brain aneurism days before the event, Gilson told the crowd. As he boarded a plane to fly home, he put up a five-sentence appeal to his classmates on Facebook for help navigating the health care system. As he boarded a plane to fly home, he put up a five-sentence appeal for suggestions from classmates on Facebook. Then he shut his phone off for takeoff.
By the time he landed a couple of hours later, he had 56 messages from Michigan Law students. Within two days, the number had swollen to more than 200.
"When discussing what the Michigan Difference is, we can point to the top-notch faculty or to the standout academics, and we would be right on both counts," Gilson said. "But in my opinion and my experience, that true difference has been the students."
Gilson made a more poignant point, as well.
"We have a limited and indeterminate time here," he said. "Pursue your passions deliberately and with urgency.… Growing up does not have to be synonymous with giving up. And reminders of our mortality should drive us to pursue those passions with more vigor today than ever before."
That was a sentiment echoed by Zoë Adele Justice, who was elected to speak on behalf of 34 LLM students, three International Tax LLMs, and four SJDs.
"You have before you, graduating today, some extremely active members of the global community," Justice said of her fellow graduate students.
The same could be said of the graduating JDs, Holder said. He detailed the thousands of hours donated by members of the class to people who needed help around the world—and around the corner. Pro bono projects helped seniors, children, and veterans in Detroit, he said, and also helped human trafficking victims, refugees, and torture victims here and in far-flung regions of the globe.
None of which should be surprising, Holder said, for a group that defined their student careers "not as a means to an end, but as a step toward a larger societal goal."
"As of today, you're no longer merely students of the law," Holder said. "You are now stewards of our justice system."
He also urged students to never give up the fight to create a more just world.
"Your duty," he concluded, "is to make certain that what might be possible does not become what might have been."
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