To the Class 2001


In lieu of a graduation speech – I guess they don’t leave a place at the dais for the graduate with the highest grades in the “6-foot-5 or taller future non-lawyers from Iowa” category. So I offer not advice, not words of wisdom, just a few thoughts about what I think people like us ought to do – and how we might do it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt lucky to be here, not that I considered my acceptance undeserved … those of you who know me know what kind of ego I have. I’ve always been somewhat awed by the place. Not necessarily by my classmates, many of whom I have seen in an inebriated state, nor even by the faculty, dean, library, reading assignments, exams, Gannett House, etc. What is awesome is the power of Harvard’s graduates – the ranks of which we will soon join. The power is reinforced and extended perhaps by the degree itself, but the Harvard degree and even its name are not the core of that power. The core is found in the kind of people who strive to get to this place, brave its trials and leave it three years later to head in a new direction (and maybe to pay off a debt or two).

That power can be measured in sheer productivity, in collective income or even in brainpower. Or maybe it can be measured as the present value of future positions of power in communities all over this nation: senior partners, CEOs, mayors, Congressmen, maybe even a vice president who, following Gore’s example, will quote from Langdell’s walls. All that is true, and even that description forgets the power of raising children and leading families … but even this is not enough of a statement about our power.

I am thinking about our immense and immeasurable power to do good even as we are increasingly doing well. I recommend to you that we think about that power; that we then apply the same discipline and planning that got us here and channel that power to build a better society. Now I am among the first to believe and agree that merely being a productive member of society and a devoted family man or woman is of great value, and I hope I can succeed at that. But we have the capacity, I think, to do so much more on such a larger scale. I’m not just referring to the option of public interest laywering, which has its place, but the law itself is only a piece of the overall puzzle.

We can use our minds to come up with creative solutions to society’s problems. We can summon our work ethic to get our hands dirty on those solutions. We can employ our leadership ability, if not just our positions of leadership, to bring others into the fray. And yes, we can pull out our pocketbooks, to strategically invest in our communities.

I urge you to give your future philanthropic and social endeavors some careful thought today, before time flies because you’re having so much fun spending 80 to 90 hours per week at The Firm. Think about how you can best apply your abilities in a broad way. Think about which problems and issues thirst for your involvement. Do this now while you still have a lot of free time. If you let this chance pass, some day your answer to the question, “Are you involved in the community?” will be, “Well, I give to United Way at work” or “Hey, I’m a member at the Met”. I’m not decrying the merits of these causes and institutions. But they sometimes represent a philosophy of “charity as an afterthought”. Instead of an afterthought, make it a “beforethought” – something you think about and plan for before you get too busy.

When you come back to HLS for our 25th reunion I hope to see you all happy, wealthy and wizened by your years at work. But I also hope to see people who can look back at their first few years after law school as a time when they used their power to make a difference in a thoughtful and effective way. Feel free to come up and ask me how I’ve been thinking about this philanthropy stuff – but if I don’t hear from you … good luck, be good, and do good!

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