1993 Leon Panetta Talk
I want to thank the university for giving me a chance to be back in California. I also want to assure you that the travel office of the White House did not prepare this trip. It is nice to be back at this campus. I spent seven years of my life on this campus, both as an undergrad and at the law school here. It holds a lot of warm memories.
I want to take this moment also to congratulate all of the graduates - - you made it. I have developed a rather infamous reputation for telling the truth, only in Washington does the truth make headlines in this country. What I haven't told people is that it is my Catholic background and the fear of hell that makes me tell the truth. And I did want to take this opportunity to share some common truths with you, the graduates of Santa Clara Law School.
I guess truth number one is that you do not need nor do I, on a warm day, to hear a long address on complex issues involving either war or politics • • • I am going to spare you that agony.
Truth number two: As proud as all of you should be at this moment as you graduate from law school, let's face it - - law school is really not a pleasant experience.
Grammar school is a pleasant experience. High school is a pleasant experiences. College is not a bad experience either. But law school is not. There are not a lot of warm memories about having to study late in the law library, having to read through a number of cases and prepare for some very tough exams. And now your biggest effort to look forward to is the bar exam.
Nevertheless, althqugh it may not be your best experience, you will always be thankful for the rest of your life for this day, for having completed law school.
That takes me really to truth numb er three, which I believe law school and being a lawyer is really all about. For a moment I want you to strip away from your mind, if you can, all of the cases, all of the code words that you've developed • • • , because • • • it's what's left that I care about and that you will care about. It's what's left that really counts and it's what's left that will really determine your success or failure as a lawyer, but more importantly, as a citizen and as a human being.
The question really is not how smart you are or how much law you know, the question is whether you have, what I would call, legalum commonsensum, which is • • • street sense and common sense and the way you deal with clients and the way you deal with others. Let's talk about some of that common sense.
First of all, do you respect the fact that never again will you look at any issue and not see two sides to it?
What law school should have given you is not so much knowledge of the law as a process of thinking. Education really gives you, I think in almost any institution, a process of thinking and approaching problems. A process of analyzing, evaluating, balancing, a process whose greatest virtue is tolerance, and patience, and objectivity, but whose greatest sins can be indecision, apathy, and confusion.
You owe it to your clients, and you owe it to yourself, to always challenge, always question in the constant struggle to find truth, answers and solutions. • • This is true in law, it is true in public policy and it is true in life.
There will always be those who believe that they are the sole landlords of the truth. I can remember, as a matter of fact, a
Jesuit who taught me theology here at santa Clara -- Father Donohoe, some of you still may remember him. And in one class I remember him describing how at the end of the world - - he was a believer in the old school -- everyone who had ever lived would gather in a large valley somewhere in the Middle East for the last judgement. And after he went through this long description of the last judgement, I raised my hand and said, "Father, I just don't think you can put everybody who every lived, with all of their bodies united, in one place any place on this world. " And there was this long silence and he said to me, "Son, if it's qood enough for me, it's good enough for you. "
Your ability to look at both sides of any issue will not make you less of a fighter for your clients; it will make you a better fighter for your client and for what you believe.
Secondly, when you strip away all of those cases, do you understand, do you accept the fact that you are now, as of today, an in 1 part, a component part of the rule of law in this country Atop the Supreme Court building in Washinqton, D.C. there are etched the following words in stone: "We are a nation of laws not of men. " Excusing for the moment the sexism of our
forefathers, perhaps a second sentence should appear below that which would read as follows: "It is the men and women who are trained in the law who will ultimately determine whether we are a nation of laws. "
Your degree confers on you certain privileges, but it also confers on you a special responsibility to carry on the rUle of law in this country. The law is critical to a free society. It is the great equalizer. Everyone, regardless of race, color, creed or beliefs, everyone must be equal before the law. And you the advocate, the judge, the officer of the court, the lawyer can
make that promise real or not real.
And lastly, when all of those special little rules • • • when all of that disappears from your mind, do you respect the fact that you must first and foremost respect yourself? You must have enough confidence in yourself to say "no" when it counts, to make tough choices when it counts. You don't have to be a lawyer really to do that; it just matters a lot more when you are.
Lawyers as all of you know, like politicians, are not at a loss for egos. You will be faced by incredible challenges and incredible temptations. You have to decide what you will be about. What role will you play in society, in our system of justice, in your community, in public life? A law degree is not just a license to hide, it is a sword to pursue the kind of confidence that can find the truth. Because you are lawyers, you will instinctively try to rationalize whatever your decisions are.
But the ultimate test is whether or not you can look at yourself in the mirror in the morning. It will not be easy, but that is the fundamental test of whether you are truly good lawyers and whether you will succeed as lawyers. But more importantly, it is the fundamental test of whether we will succeed as a nation.
Today, this nation faces, I believe, the toughest challenges that we have faced since World War II. We have come out of the Cold War era and we as a nation are trying to define what kind of foreign policy we will have for this nation abroad and, more importantly, how will we confront the economic and social issues that we face in this country.
In the '80s we forgot what our heritage was all about • • • All of us wanted to believe that there was really no need for tough choices. The hope was that somehow the problems could resolve themselves and hopefully go away. But as a result • • • we have a weak economy, here in this state and throughout the country, we have a huge deficit now approaching almost $4.4 trillion. We have failed to properly invest in our people, in their education, their healthcare, their housing and jobs for the future. And for the first time in a long time people are concerned about whether or not our children will truly have a better life.
The time has come for all of us to look at ourselves in the mirror and decide what we are about as a people. The challenqe of the '90s is not to repeat the mistakes of the '80s, but to provide a bold, new direction for the united states of America.
As lawyers, you are trained as advocates, but the very qualities that will determine your success as advocates are really the same qualities that ultimately can direct this nation. The respect for the ability to question, to consider the views of all and the effort to find solutions. Respect for the rule of Law. Respect for ourselves and for others so that in the end you do what is riqht.
I have served in public service most of my life, but it's the principles that I learned here at santa Clara Law School that qave me the capacity to serve others. You now have the same principles, the same truths, the same qualities. Use them to serve others and in doinq so you will serve the law. You will serve the community. But more importantly, you will serve this qreat nation. Conqratulations to all of you.
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To tell the story of Bob Miller ’67 is to tell the coming-of-age tale of Las Vegas itself. And it’s the chronicle of a man who served a decade as governor of Nevada. Quite a journey for the son of an illegal bookie from Chicago.
Nina Acosta '82 was a tough enough cop to pass the test for the LAPD’s SWAT team. Then she learned the hard way about gender discrimination. So how did she do on Survivor?
The 2013 Alexander Law Prize honors Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese civil-rights activist and attorney who protested government abuses—including excessive enforcement of the one-child policy—then escaped house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Growing up tennis with Kelly Lamble ’13 and John Lamble ’13. And Bronco teams that are a force to be reckoned with nationally.
For teaching and advising and a ministry that’s blessed this place for 48 years—paying tribute to Charles Phipps, S.J.