YLS 2014 Commencement: Graduates Encouraged to Use Law to Work Toward an Imagined Future—PHOTOS, SPEECHES, VIDEO
In his remarks to the graduating class, Dean Robert C. Post ’77 advised the class of 2014 not to dwell on the "small things we imagine we can control: a good clerkship, a high salary, a prestigious career placement."
Instead, Post urged graduates to "make a wish" in order to "fuse together the scattered fragments of your life into a single, coherent temporal arc." In explaining the context for his advice, Post invoked the two experiences of time described by the literary critic Walter Benjamin: the short-term "gambler's" sense of one proposition after another, which is ultimately unfulfilling; and the more substantive, long-term understanding of time, which is defined by work in service of a wish, which can "give purpose and shape to your life."
Two other speakers joined Dean Post in addressing the graduating class: Clinical Professor of Law Muneer I. Ahmad and Michael H. Posner, a leader in international human rights who received an honorary Doctorate of Law from Yale University earlier in the day.
Professor Ahmad followed Dean Post's remarks with an invitation to each graduate to re-connect with the self they were upon arriving at the Law School. "This is a moment to listen to your individual voice," said Ahmad. He advised the graduates to not be content in allowing their learned competencies in "intellectual engagement, persuasion, and lawyering" to provide the final answers when faced with the profound—and inevitable—moments of "inarticulate" incomprehension.
These "inarticulate moments" are often informed by the issues that live closest to the self, Ahmad explained, offering moving examples from his own life. After hearing his mother recount her experience of hunger because of gender biases in her native Pakistan, Ahmad had no easy answer: "Gender-based hunger was not some abstract sociological phenomenon, it was a lived experience whose pangs echoed in my own household, even though I had not previously heard them."
Ahmad challenged the class of 2014 to approach these inarticulate moments as opportunities to expand the realms of meaning and justice for both one's self and the shared world bound by the word of law: "The pioneering of new language is a form of contestation, and can help us to anticipate new and more inclusive realities… My hope is that by learning law’s language, and developing a sophisticated ear, you have learned how to develop new languages of your own. The limits of language are merely frontiers."
Following Ahmad's remarks, Michael H. Posner addressed the graduates. Posner served as assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 2009 to 2013, and before that, as head of Human Rights First from 1978 to 2009.
Posner touched on three points in his remarks, first acknowledging the sense of powerlessness and skepticism one might feel when faced by a world of complex and seemingly intractable problems. "I want to say, though, that you can make a difference," Posner reminded them. "From my vantage point, this is one of the few things that is absolutely crystal clear."
Posner then recounted personal experiences that illustrated the long-term advances in human rights work during his lifetime, and reminded the graduates to recalibrate their sense of time. "Human rights work is not a sport for the short-winded," he explained. "Progress comes in decades." Posner highlighted numerous advances in human rights, including the prominence of human rights organizations in the international community, the fall of South African apartheid and Latin American military dictatorships, and the protection of LGBT rights. Posner said, "The history of the last forty years happened because people like you entered the fray and they chipped away at problems that they were told were politically impossible to fix. There is no substitute."
"The history of the last forty years happened because people like you entered the fray and they chipped away at problems that they were told were politically impossible to fix. There is no substitute."
—Michael H. Posner
Posner closed by inviting the class of 2014 to consider government service somewhere in their careers. "Political participation and government service is the lifeblood of any democracy," Posner said. "If good people don't serve, we will not get the system we deserve."
During Dean Post's remarks, he quoted from the poet W.H. Auden, who famously compared law to love in his poem, "Law, Like Love."
Like love we don’t know where or why
Like love we can’t compel or fly
Like love we often weep
Like love we seldom keep.
Both law and love, Post explained, are "essential and inescapable" dimensions of human life. "To lose faith in the possibility of law is therefore to betray our humanity."
In his closing, Post told the class of 2014: "My wish for you on this auspicious day is that you leave here with your own wish, one that will give purpose and shape to your life. My hope is that you will have the competence and confidence to pursue that wish, and that the pursuit will give you always a reason to look up from your books, from your career, from your life, and to ask why things can or should be different and better. My hope is that fidelity to your wish may help deflect the anxieties that will inevitably afflict you. And my hope is that, as my great predecessor Dean Harold Koh used to say, you will not die with your options open."
Two hundred forty-nine degree candidates were honored at the ceremonies Monday, including 218 JDs, 24 LLMs, 4 JSDs, and 3 MSLs.