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Congresswoman tells law grads that tough economy brings opportunity to help

Nearly 300 law graduates received their JDs at the Sturm College of Law's Commencement.

In a telling sign of the country’s struggling economy, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette didn’t sugarcoat the difficult job market facing University of Denver Sturm College of Law graduates but reminded them that tough times also afford opportunities.

Nearly 300 new DU law graduates crossed the stage May 21 inside Magness Arena, facing elevated unemployment nationwide. But DeGette drew from her own experiences as a law graduate to encourage the new lawyers to persevere.

Twenty-nine years ago, when she graduated from the New York University School of Law, DeGette (D-Denver) said she was selected as her class graduation speaker. In her speech, she recalled, she shocked many in the crowd.

“I stood up in front of everybody and said, ‘I don’t have a job,’” she recalled.

But the reason, she said, was because she wanted a job that made a difference to society, a position in public interest law. Finding that perfect job was tough then, and it’s tough today, she said.

But she told graduates there are still opportunities to make a difference and put their skills to work. Instead of taking a job in a metropolitan law firm, working as an associate and striving to make partner, DeGette suggested working for a legal aid organization or working in underserved rural areas.

“Think outside the box. Get in your car and go to Ouray or Grand Junction or Nebraska,” she said. “Find a small town that needs a lawyer … It’s the opportunity for you to make the difference of a generation.”

Chancellor Robert Coombe awards a degree to a law graduate on May 21.

Student speaker Melina Hernandez also reminded graduates to remember those who have helped along the way. Beginning on a humorous note, she embarked on a top-10 list of things she learned in law school.

Looking out at the graduates dressed in black robes and purple berets, she began, “Look at you. You’re all so smart. You look ridiculous.”

Among the things she learned, she said, “It’s really hard to say you’re in law school without sounding pretentious.”

But then, turning serious and choking with emotion, she talked of the sacrifices families make to help a student through the years of toil.

“They’ll go through criminal law flash cards with you long enough so that they could pass the final,” she said. “They will always be there for you.”

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3 Comments

  1. Sandra Cochran says:

    Graduation speeches are traditionally uplifting even in times of adversity. Graduation speakers typically seek to impart wisdom they have learned about the road facing the graduates. Diana Degette’s speech did nothing but show how out of touch with reality she is. Telling law school graduates she understands the debt load of $50-60-70,000 that we are coming out with shows she failed to even research the average law school debt. Does she know how much DU costs? She told students it is ok if you can’t get a high paying job with a big firm try public interest. You can do that until something else comes up. I am a student who attended law school solely to practice public interest. She made it seem that serving of others was only a good career choice if nothing else was available. My career choice is not because I can’t get anything else; it is because I have a burning desire to help others and serve my fellow man. I know that many of my fellow graduates feel the same way. I was shocked by her speech. My family, friends, and fellow graduates were shocked. The speech was poorly written, poorly delivered, and failed to be uplifting and inspirational. We all know the economy is bad. We all know the job market is bad. We did not need to be repeatedly reminded of this on our day of achievement. It was a day for celebration not for a slap in the face of reality. Perhaps Rep. Degette should lead by example and work for free or better yet take her own advice and move to Nebraska.

    • I voted in favor of this relusotion at the mid-year meeting. Frankly, if people are still going to law school thinking they’re guaranteed a job and a salary at $100K+, I think they deserve what they get. I did research and went to classes before l decided to go to law school. And I agree with your point on the data not being comprehensive and necessarily accurate as self-reported by graduates. However, there are apparently schools actually doing things like creating jobs paying $15,000 a year at their libraries in an attempt to boost their employment stats. That’s wrong. I don’t know that this relusotion will ultimately do a damn thing to help, but at least it applies a bit of pressure on the real wrongdoers here.

  2. arthur macmillan says:

    Wow. Let’s see… she graduated from NYU, a Top 5 law school, when the economy was good, when structural oversupply problems didn’t exist for new lawyers.

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