Saturday, May 19, 2012

Congratulations to my Criminal Law Professor Te, as Columbia's 2012 LL.M. SPEAKER

The Class of 2012, distinguished guests, family, and friends:

Nine months ago, the LL.M. Class of 2012, 277 strong, arrived from all over the world. We lived each day like we were visitors, taking in our Columbia and New York experience with an urgency brought about by the knowledge that our LL.M. year was time-bound and fleeting. Each day confronted us with a “balancing of interests”—Central Park or CIAL? SoHo or Securities? MoMA or M&A? Bar Review or Bright Line Rules?—and our own multi-factor tests that would have earned a concurrence from Justice Kennedy and a dissent from Justice Scalia.

But we soon realized that New York isn’t just a place you visit, it’s a place you inhabit, imbibe, and enjoy; and our LL.M. year at Columbia was absolutely enhanced by the experience of learning law and life here. Thank you, Dean Schizer, the faculty, and staff of Columbia Law, for making our LL.M. year memorable; but special thanks to Dean Sylvia Polo, Jill Marden Casal, Susanna Ketron, Stephanie Lowd, and the staff of the GLS, for being patient with us and for enduring our many, many, many complaints and questions with amazing equanimity, great humor, and always good cheer.

As our LL.M. year flew by, we soon found ourselves speaking a common language—that of life-long friends1 who had shared a life together, even if only for nine quick months. The breathtaking “diversity, ability, and commitment”2 of our class is matched only by our amazing unity. We showed that in how we engaged and contributed to the school and our fellow students. Whether it was responding to opportunities to help in fund drives for earthquake and storm victims from halfway around the world; participating in “Around the World” events to benefit Alex Blasczuk; filling up Facebook walls with birthday greetings or congratulatory messages for the many LL.M. babies;3 competing in moot courts; discussing a range of issues such as global hunger and its causes or the legality of targeted killings from drone attacks; or even to standing here, on this stage today—we carried each other. And in all these times, we proudly carried one identity—Columbia LL.M. Class of 2012.

As that story ends today, another begins. As we leave Columbia as LL.M.s, we are confronted with the consequences of that identity: What does an LL.M. degree mean “outside of a seminar room”?
I don’t have a complete answer to that; I suspect you also don’t. What I do know is this: A Columbia LL.M. degree means nothing if receiving it is the end of it.

In Professor Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent class last fall, I realized that it is perfectly acceptable to not know the answers—many of us didn’t—but it is absolutely inexcusable to not ask questions. This spring, I marveled at Professor Monaghan’s curiosity for “questions . . . discussed only in seminar rooms” and his passion for dissecting old and new cases, and I realized that curiosity and passion defy age and station, and that it is that curiosity and passion that spell the difference between an LL.M. degree that simply hangs on a wall and one that is lived out fully.

It is the curiosity and courage to ask questions, and the passion and determination to find answers,that make our degrees meaningful. The “asking” leads to “acting,” and it is in the process of “asking and acting” that our LL.M.s take on flesh and muscle, blood and bone.
But “flesh and muscle, blood and bone” mean nothing if there is no soul, no spirit.

The words etched across Kent Hall, the former site of the Law School—Ius est Ars Boni et Aequi (“Law is the science of the good and the just”)—remind us that if “asking and acting” are flesh and muscle, blood and bone, then “being good and doing justice” are soul and spirit.

The challenge to us, as Columbia’s newest LL.M.s, is to continue asking and acting, confronting and challenging, being good and being just, doing good and working justice in whatever field we find ourselves. There is no other way to live out our identity as Columbia LL.M.s.

Allow me to end on a personal note by thanking two of the best teachers I have ever had: My parents, Jess and Juliet, who are here today. They taught me how it is to be good and to be just through their example of a love freely given and a life well lived. I am so proud to carry your name.
Congratulations, Class of 2012, and, as we say in the Philippines, Mabuhay tayong lahat! (“May we all live fully!”)

* Delivered on May 17, 2012, during the Law School graduation ceremony.
1 A description suggested by Saeher Qureshi LL.M. ’12.
2 The description comes from Michael Teichman LL.M. ’12 in his email to me of April 17, 2012.
3 Thank you to Alejandro Manayalle LL.M. ’12, for the reminder that there were those who finished their LL.M. while taking care of babies; as he puts it, “double work, double happiness.”


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