Harriet Miers Commencement Speech

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Thank you very much for the kind introduction. Chancellor Runnels, President Benton, Chief Justice Lucas, Dean Starr, all of the faculty and staff, the Pepperdine Law School alumni, especially Geoff Palmer whom you honored today, family friends, and members of the class of 2005. Thank you for allowing me to share this wonderful day with you. To be able to speak at Pepperdine today is a great honor; to have that invitation come from the legendary Ken Starr makes the invitation even more special to me. Over the course of time, Dean Starr has done so many important things that I struggled with what to call him. I solicited suggestions from some of the graduates here today. Those who are about to enter the practice of law suggested that I call him Attorney Starr. Those who seek to be appellate attorneys suggested General Starr. Those who were entering clerkships, they suggested Judge Starr. And one graduate obviously still looking for a job said, "Just call him what he wants." And so today I am sticking to the academic for the graduation theme, Dean Starr.

On this graduation day, I congratulate first the faculty and staff of the Pepperdine School of Law, the men and women professionals who have devoted their lives to making this school a place of excellence and honor and achievement. I know the graduates join me today in paying tribute to those men and women. And graduates, lets face it, there are many reasons you should pay special tribute today to your parents. They have shown immeasurable faith in you. They are really trusting souls; they sent you to Malibu to study. But you have not disappointed them because you are here today and you are all smiles. They were there with you by your side providing you comfort, encouraging you, praying for you, and of course in many instances paying for you. So today I congratulate the parents and others who have provided you guidance and support and those who have helped bring you to this day.

When Dean Starr called with the invitation to speak at this commencement, I knew I faced a very tough decision. When traveling to Malibu, as Counsel to the President of the United States of America, do I bring my long surf board or take the short surf board? The truth is neither. At least on this trip, swimming in the big waves is not part of my duty.

You are indeed very fortunate to have attended an institution founded on strong principles. In 1937 George Pepperdine endowed this university for the purpose of helping, and I quote, "Young men and women to prepare themselves for a life of usefulness in this competitive world and help them build a foundation of Christian character and faith which will survive the storms of life." The Founder embodied in that short statement much about life and success that you frequently hear from commencement speakers at undergraduate ceremonies. As Porsche pointed out, you have to prepare and you have to be ready for the challenges of life. Our world today is competitive. Getting ahead is not easy.

The solid foundation for life is character and faith. That no one can take away, and time and events do not erode. Meaning in this life comes from putting your talents to their very best use. You have to work hard, and yes, hard times come for all of us. It is how you confront those times, survive those times, and emerge from those times that determine your ultimate success and happiness. All of these are indeed good lessons that endure. And as I review them, they are good lessons for law school graduates also. Furthering its emphasis on character and usefulness, the University established its Law School in 1971. And your school mission statement shows how this school extends the principles of the University into professional education.

Lawyers best serve the interest of their clients as well as the interest of society when they possess a genuine commitment to high standards of personal conduct and professional responsibility. Today serves as the culmination of three years of very hard work and preparation for you. And you can be very proud of becoming the graduate of a school with the right focus. I guess I should say, to keep this non-political, "right" as in "correct." So while undergraduate school helps provide a foundation for your future, law school builds on that foundation. You will find that being a lawyer provides you instant credibility as a professional, yet as your law school mission statement recognizes, you will find that being a lawyer causes people to expect more of you. Pepperdine has set your mission here in the law school to become the kind of lawyer who recognizes an obligation to serve and give back to the society that provides you a very special place.

And I have another hope; one suitable for a graduate in Malibu. I hope beginning today you will be ready to make "waves" both in your new profession as well as in your communities in this great nation. Here is what I mean. In the White House Counsel's office, of course we see cutting edge issues every day. In the West Wing, we witness how important the law is in our society firsthand. The most difficult of policy issues always are laced with legal issues. They are the issues you read about in the newspaper or hear on television. Yet that the basics of law practice in the West Wing are the very same as they are anywhere, is an important thing for you to hear. You have a client; in our case it is the Presidency. You have an obligation to know and advise based upon the law. And there are always the practicalities: in my case, trying to get the policy we think ought to be passed through the Congress. This is the same as in the practice of law, or representing other governmental entities. The clients and the issues are different. The responsibilities though (the loyalties dedicated to client interest) are the same.

I do not intend to be partisan in these remarks. But you might guess how I come out on some of these issues that I am about to mention. I will say that it is a rare privilege to serve any president of the United States, and for me particularly, the President I serve, George W. Bush. He and Mrs. Bush have inspired me long before he became President.

Now back to the issues. We have 9/11 of course; and the War on Terror; needed education reforms; attacking prevalent drug use and the tremendously terrible impact that has on our society; the stress on our environment from development; the need for innovative energy sources; reform of our entitlement programs including Social Security; increasing home ownership and other forms of ownership in our society; the clash of science and ethics and morality in such fields as stem cell research and end-of-life decisions as we have seen most recently; capital punishment; tort reform; minimum overtime pay; free trade and protectionism; and even the use of the filibuster.

These are just a few of the topics that involve the impact of the law. They engender great emotion and great debate, and in each, the law looms large. But I do not want you to think for a moment that you have to work in the West Wing to be involved in any one of those critical issues that faces this nation. In this great country, as a lawyer, you can begin immediately to be involved yourself in anyone one of them. From the minute you get your law license as well as beyond, you can involve yourself in organizations, you can involve yourself in the development and passing of legislation, and you can write about issues and find that you are much more easily published just because you are a lawyer. And your opportunities to provide input into these critical issues or similar ones obviously increases as time passes.

I remember back to the mid 70's and one of my classmates in law school. He was a great human being. The truth is he did not excel in law school, but he did okay. As a lawyer though, there could not have been a better guardian of his clients' interests or a better representative of our profession. He cared so deeply about our law and what it meant to our society. He was disturbed at that time because the public school curricula did not embody any teaching about the legal system or why our laws are even important. But he had read that young students who knew about the legal system and laws were much less likely to get into trouble with the criminal justice system. So he carefully went to work, researching around the nation the very best program addressing teaching of law to young people. And after quite a bit of hard work, he found an educational program called "Law Focused Education." It provided a curriculum for teachers in grade schools and secondary schools to teach about the law and teach about our legal system. This individual assembled just a few others, some of his classmates and teachers, to make sure the curricula in schools would teach young people about the law and our legal system. He succeeded, and when he was through, school district by school district around Texas each began to teach about the laws and the legal system to our youngsters.

Another very new lawyer was troubled by the prevalence of domestic violence and the lack of resources to provide its victims help, particularly legal advice. She and one other woman set out as volunteers to provide a hotline for victims of domestic violence. Their efforts became renowned around our state, and through their hard work, not only did they develop a hotline but also a network of lawyers to assist women who so badly needed their help. Both of these are examples of brand-new lawyers, fresh out of school, who chose the law as a profession as a means to a very good living. But importantly, they also saw their duty to act on behalf of the community to fill gaps where gaps existed. Both were bold in advancing their causes, sometimes making those who were listening uncomfortable. Their persistent efforts brought needed efforts to their causes, in other words, making "waves." And those of us who were their friends were simply swept along.

There also are some usual points that get made in a law school graduation: Know the law and stay abreast to the changes in the law, pretty simple. What the judge I clerked for called "staying on the horizons of the law." Remain service-oriented to your clients, your colleagues, and your community. Stay involved in professional and community activities. Find and take advantage of good mentors, be a good listener, tackle problems head-on and never bury your mistakes. Self-control and pleasantness always serve better. Remember your word is your bond, and remember always, the building of a reputation day by day is what you do as you practice law. As a professional, your reputation will always be your most valuable asset. I will end with a familiar theme: you have to work hard.

These are important goals to keep in mind to be successful. But I would like to mention some of the challenges of our legal profession as you enter it. I will focus on three, but there are more. First, it is not enough to have programs teach youngsters about the law and our legal system, although, as I indicated, those programs are important. Too many members of our society and the media simply do not understand our legal system and the role of judges in our society. Questions I hear are: Why would judges need our support even when we disagree with them, even when their decisions seem wrong? Or if they are unpopular and when they are proven wrong, why are federal judges appointed for life? Why are certain seizures illegal even though they lead to apprehension of dangerous criminals? These are just examples of questions that puzzle the public, and of course there is another one, why are lawyers so expensive? We have our work cut out for us as a profession helping make sure that the public and the media understand the answers to theses and similar questions so they can continue to respect the law and our system. As you join our ranks, we welcome your assistance and ideas in finding ways to communicate the facts about our laws and legal systems building on programs like the one I mentioned.

Secondly, our ranks as attorneys and the judiciary do not represent our population demographics in the way they should. Yes, gender representation is increasing and slowly leveling out to appropriate levels. Interestingly your class is 114 male, and 114 female. Evenly divided. By the way, your class represents graduates from 114 undergraduate schools. Is there something about the number 114 you want to tell us? Our judiciary should be open and fair to all members of our society. The profession will benefit greatly by a bench and bar more closely reflective of the members of our population, and our society will also benefit. To emphasize this challenge, let me relate some statistics. Our leadership is indicative of success in our profession. In the Dallas Bar you heard I was elected president in 1985 as the first woman to serve in that position. This year, 2005, an African American woman will serve as our president, the first to serve in that position two decades later. We can do better. I am told that two of the largest state boards in this nation still have not had an African American president. The Texas Bar will have its first Hispanic president next year. Programs to encourage more minorities to study for and become leaders in our profession and to seek judicial positions are just essential. You can help by reaching out to members of the community that you are close to and encourage them in the way they need to be encouraged to join the profession.

A third challenge for us is the stress and pressures of law practice today. If you do not remember anything else about what I say today, I want you to remember this. There is enticement in the practice to over-commit and to allow client demands to drain essential time away from family, faith and professional and community involvement. With technology and with increased expectations of compensation, balance is often lost. I was told my first day in law school decades ago that the law is a jealous mistress. It is truer today than it was then. So you need to demand a simple thing for yourself and for your loved ones, time. Lawyers whose lives are balanced improve the health of our profession as a whole. In other words, our lawyers have to learn when they are in church or the synagogue or the mosque... turn off the stupid BlackBerry!

Each day at the White House, I marvel at the people who serve our country in so many ways. Many serve in the military; some serve as political appointees like myself, some in career positions and have served for decades. What is amazing and humbling is to see the individual commitment to serving something greater than self. History is kind to leaders, or at least good leaders. It is their vision and their actions that make so many interesting books to write and read. However, often overlooked are the many contributors who pave the way for historical events to occur. And I see those people day in and day out in the White House. And I am happy to report importantly for you today, many of them are lawyers. Every morning at 7:30 we assemble as senior staff around a table in the Roosevelt room in the White House. There are seventeen of us seated at that table, eight of them are lawyers. And I dare say, most of us started our careers with no idea we would ever be at that table someday. There was one who started a career in law enforcement, one who worked as an investment banker, one who worked for a law firm, the Defense Department, state government, and then there is one who worked for Dean Starr when he was special prosecutor. And then there is me. And I want to just say, I started in an ordinary practice never imagining that I would even be close to the White House, much less in the West Wing. In my office hangs the commission naming me a member of the White House staff. It notes that my service is at the pleasure of the President; and is an important reminder to me that my time there is very short and it is precious. Whether you are George W. Bush or George Pepperdine or George whatever, your time is precious as well. At some point it all comes to a close, and when you step back to reflect, you will know that your time was spent wisely by the reputation you develop and the legacy you leave that lasts through the days. You are taking your first steps today into a wonderful profession. You have a good start. I am counting on you, as some of our newest lawyers, to help make a difference.

Congratulations to the Class of 2005, God bless you, best of luck in all of your future endeavors and God Bless America!