May 13, 2013 -- Graduates of the University of Houston Law Center Class of 2013 were advised during commencement exercises Saturday to pursue their passion because their newly minted law degrees can open doors to many successful careers in addition to the practice of law.
Commencement speaker, KTRK – Channel 13 news anchor Melanie Lawson, joked that her longtime friend and part-time broadcast colleague, Interim Dean Richard Alderman, might not appreciate her saying so, but she is a prime example of an attorney who took her legal education to a different field where she has had great success and personal satisfaction.
After graduating with J.D. and journalism degrees from Columbia University in 1980 and working three years as a Wall Street attorney, she "took a huge pay cut and came back home" to her first love, journalism. "Not everybody takes the same path," she told the 347 graduates, mentioning a number of careers in which attorneys have parlayed their legal skills and knowledge into alternate careers, including authors, sports agents, Hollywood and Internet executives, and even presidents. "The economy is on an upswing," she said, "good jobs are coming back.
"My point is, you will find a job and you will be a success," Lawson told the grads in her fast-paced, upbeat delivery. "In fact, your future job may not even exist yet, but the law will help you in any career. She urged them to work for love, not money. "Find the thing you want to get up and do every morning."
She urged the graduates to keep life, and their career, in perspective, offering several bits of advice to keep in mind: occasional failure along the way is inevitable, but the important thing is to keep trying; "life is not a blood lust sport;" be good at your job, but also be good to people; pay it forward by volunteering, mentoring a child, or helping someone in need; have faith in "something that is more powerful than you;" always remember what is most important, family and friends; and finally, be happy.
"You will find your place, and you will be successful," she concluded. "Congratulations and best wishes. You're going to knock 'em dead!"
A common theme among speakers before and after Lawson was how proud graduates, family members and friends should feel about the accomplishment of earning a J.D. as well as pride in the Law Center and the legal profession.
"Be proud of your hard work, sacrifices, and dedication," Alderman said in welcoming the graduates, "and be especially proud that you are now going to be a lawyer.
"You soon will be responsible for making sure that our system of justice works the way it should, that it guarantees equality and fairness," he said. "Whether it's civil rights, business disputes, divorce custody, or a defective car case, you will be the one who guarantees both sides of that dispute have an opportunity to be treated fairly under the law."
Renu Khator, chancellor of the UH System and president of the University of Houston, System Regent and Law Center alumnus Jarvis V. Hollingsworth '93, and Bill Jackson '92, president of the UH Law Alumni Association, echoed the well-earned sense of pride graduates should feel.
The president noted the high ranking of the law school and several of its specialty programs, the top quality of the faculty, and success of its students and pointed out that during the graduates' three years at the school, the university gained Tier One research status as well as several other top national rankings.
"I know that as law graduates, some of you will serve in the Legislature, some of you will get appointed to our Board of Regents, some of you will start your own practice, some of you will become billionaires, and one of you, I hope, will become governor of Texas or president of the United States," she said to applause.
The commencement exercise concluded with humor from Russell Gifford who was chosen by his classmates to give the student address. He poked fun at himself, fellow graduates, and the administration before getting serious with a line from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo: "Life is a storm….. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next."
Facing the bar exam, career choices, successes, and failures, he advised, "Don't let the weight of our obligations grind us down… It's ultimately up to us how much we enjoy our short time here so always make the most of it."
Gifford ended with "the words of one of the most famous lawyers, the Great Emancipator, President Lincoln: "Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes!"