May 28, 2010
As the 761 members of the Class of 2010, were about to start their journey onto the next step in their lives, Dean Martha Minow took a moment to talk to them about another journey.
In her address to the graduating class and their families, Minow invoked a short story, “The Southern Thruway,” by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, involving a huge traffic jam. As it stretched on for days, it forced the passengers to draw on resources they didn’t know they had and to form bonds with people who had been strangers. A little bit like the community that forms among law students, she suggested.
The dean acknowledged that the Class of 2010 was graduating at a moment of great challenge with “several serious armed conflicts, the worst legal market since the Great Depression” and a “jam in the world-wide economy,” affecting people everywhere.
View Dean Minow's address and the full Commencement ceremony.
But as fiction and history have shown, “a crisis can bring out the best in us,” she said. “Your work and interactions can bring heart and mercy—if you make it so. No matter what difficulties humanity faces, we can build mechanisms of order and rescue, even in times of extreme difficulty.”
Minow evoked the divergent career paths the members of 2010 would likely follow, ranging from attorneys for the indigent, to prime ministers, to those working in finance, to leaders in education, to patent lawyers. “In each of your spheres of life, and at every level of responsibility, you will face choices about how to treat others,” she said.
“You will have to choose between basic goodness and fairness or manipulation and short-term reward. You will have the choice between caricaturing and mistrusting those with whom you disagree—or instead proceeding on the view that they, like you, like your classmates here, are people of good faith and then work together to solve shared problems.”
Minow wished the graduates “uninterrupted happiness,” but added, “We all know that traffic jams await. And thus I wish for you, through challenging as well as good times, the satisfaction of knowing that you use each crisis to advance justice, to improve human welfare, to increase daily kindness. There is deep satisfaction in combining excellent analysis with humanity and decency. I wish you the satisfaction that comes from thinking beyond yourself and working to fix and prevent ‘traffic jams’ in any sector.”