Law School graduating class urged to stand up for what's right

Lesa Neal Law students entering

Law School graduates walked into Memorial Auditorium, where a ceremony was held on May 10. In her keynote address, law Professor Pamela Karlan said “courage is a muscle” that is developed by exercisce.

Law Professor Pamela Karlan spoke of courage, collaboration and the Supreme Court when she delivered the keynote address Sunday at Stanford Law School's graduation ceremony.

Karlan has been mentioned as a potential nominee to succeed Justice David Souter on the country's highest court, an issue she addressed while encouraging the graduates.

"Would I like to be on the Supreme Court? You bet I would," Karlan said to the crowd of more than 1,500 in Memorial Auditorium. "But not enough to have trimmed my sails for half a lifetime."

Karlan, the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor in Public Interest Law, said she doesn't regret taking sides on tough issues like the Voting Rights Act, criminal defense cases and gay rights.

"In a lawyer, courage is a muscle," she said. "You develop courage by exercising it. Sitting on the fence is not practice for standing up."

This year's class included 179 candidates for the degree of Doctor of Jurisprudence. The 39 Master of Laws degrees awarded included 14 in the area of corporate governance and practice, 12 in law, science and technology, and 13 for the degree of Master of the Science of Law. Seven graduates were awarded the degree of Doctor of the Science of Law.

Using Dante's Divine Comedy as a backdrop for her address, Karlan used the Futile—those who were never really alive because they never made any choices—as a cautionary tale.

"These are the people who avoided taking any position on the great issues of the day," Karlan said. "These are the people who held back from all real engagement and spent their whole lives trying to keep their options open. Now they find themselves endlessly running after a meaningless banner that flutters in the breeze while wasps sting them. Don't be one of these people."

Mohith Julapalli, co-president of the graduating class, presented the 2009 John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching to Karlan; the inaugural Dean's Award for Excellence in Service to classmate Tamika Butler; and the 2009 Staff Appreciation Award to Chidel Onuegbu, associate director of student affairs.

Larry Kramer, the Richard E. Lang Professor and Dean at Stanford Law School, delivered the traditional charge to the class. Kramer cited the current economic crisis and the approval of controversial interrogation techniques used in the war on terror as examples of why it is imperative for the graduates to lobby for what is right, rather than what is legal.

"We live in a time, and it hasn't always been like this, when questions of what is right are increasingly and all too easily merged into questions of what is legal," Kramer said.

"Life is filled with choices and some of them are hard," he said. "And you'll need to make them by yourself and for yourself. You can consult with others, you can ask for advice. But in the end, your choices will be your own, and the most you can do—the most you must do—is to take a moment, check your gut and be sure you are being honest with yourself."

Tayla Klein is assistant director of communications at Stanford Law School.