Justice Elena Kagan Offers Wit, Encouragement at Commencement
May 11, 2011
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan shared her wit, wisdom and encouragement with members of the Class of 2011 during the University of New Mexico School of Law commencement ceremony on May 14. As the first U.S. Supreme Court justice to deliver the school's commencement address, she made history, and the speech was her first since joining the nation's high court last August. In fact, it was the first commencement address she has delivered outside of Harvard Law School, where she was the first female dean.
Under a signature New Mexico sky and with her words often buffeted by a gusty breeze, Kagan encouraged the more than 100 graduates to follow her "Rule of Three": pride, passion and pro bono publico. "Be proud of what you have done, be passionate about what you will do and whatever you do, wherever you do it, find a way to give back," she said.
Kagan clearly enjoyed being back in a law-school setting. Prior to the hooding ceremony, she visited the graduates as they were donning their gowns and also spent a few minutes with the faculty as they prepared for the ceremony. She spontaneously agreed to be in the official class photo, and after her speech, insisted on congratulating and being photographed with each graduate after they received their hood.
Kagan was one of only two Supreme Court justices to speak at law school commencement ceremonies around the country this spring, and she came at the invitation of Dean Kevin Washburn, who had been the visiting Oneida Nation professor at Harvard Law School when she was dean there. What piqued her interest was the way Washburn spoke of the UNM law students.
"It made me remember those parts of teaching law students I loved the most – people on the cusp of their careers, brimming with curiosity about what's soon to come," she said.
Kagan encouraged the graduates to follow their hearts. "You should immerse yourself in the problems you think most important and challenging, surround yourself with people you think most interesting, throw yourself into whatever has the greatest prospect of giving meaning to your life and providing satisfaction and excitement. Do what you love."