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Commencement 2012 Student Speaker

Jordan S. Rubin

Thank you, Dean Farmer. And thank you to all of the Deans and distinguished faculty we have with us here today. 

In the weeks leading up to graduation, I’ve had a lot of my classmates come up to me, and say something like, “Jordan, I have a lot of family coming out for this: your speech better be good.” So I’d like to start by welcoming all of our guests, family and friends, who have come from near and far, and also to acknowledge those loved ones who are no longer with us, but who are watching from above. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we would not be here today without all of your love and support. I know that I wouldn’t be standing here today without my family and friends. 

Honestly, I cannot express how honored I am to be delivering this speech. It’s an honor, not only because this is a law school graduation, but because it is the graduation from Rutgers School of Law-Newark, which, I would argue, given our great history and reputation, makes this an even weightier affair. It’s also refreshing, to have a day to celebrate and to reflect on our time here; unfortunately, these opportunities are somewhat rare in an otherwise stressful law school experience. So I hope we can all enjoy this day together, because we really do have so much to be proud of, and my main goal here today is to emphasize this fact.

Jordan Rubin
Jordan S. Rubin was editor-in-chief of the Rutgers Race & the Law Review, first place oralist in the 2011 David Cohn Appellate Advocacy Competition, and a Moot Court Board and National Moot Court Team member. His published note for the Rutgers Race & the Law Review is titled “The Interpretation of Umpires’ Dreams: Testing Supreme Court Nominees’ Racial Biases.” Rubin graduated magna cum laude from Binghamton University with a double major in philosophy, politics and law, and English, general literature and rhetoric. His thesis on the death penalty was awarded honors and is to be published in the Binghamton Journal of Philosophy. In the fall, he will join the New York County District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney.

 

So, a few weeks ago, I was talking to a recent Rutgers Law grad, well known for her commitment to public interest work, and she implored me, to urge our graduating class to “use our degrees for good.” And I thought, well, yeah, of course: “use your degree for good.” That’s pretty uncontroversial; I can get behind that.  

But then I started thinking. And I realized, that I’ve never had a conversation with one of my classmates about the legal job market, where someone says to me, “You know, I’m in a jam here; I have these two offers: one is for this good job and the other is for this evil job. I just can’t figure out which option to choose.” This is because posing the good and evil dilemma in this way makes a certain assumption: it assumes that there are choices to begin with. And I think that I speak for a lot of us, when I say, that “choice” is not the first word that comes to mind on the legal job hunt these days. The reality is, times are tough; the job market is seemingly non-existent in certain areas of the law. For many among us, the struggle isn’t between doing something good with your degree, or doing something evil; today’s struggle, in a way, is being able to do something, anything with your degree at all. We are simply living in a different world today, and any true assessment of where we’re going must acknowledge this. 

Now, I know this might not seem like the most uplifting thing to hear on what should be a happy day – but it actually is uplifting, and I’ll get to why in a minute. At any rate, if I didn’t bring this up, if I didn’t mention the economy and the job market, this whole speech would be pure fantasy. And even though we’re out here today, dressed up like a bunch of Harry Potter characters, I think we still owe it to ourselves to keep it real. 

So here’s the reason why this economic reality is not depressing, but instead, uplifting: despite the arguably bleak picture that I just painted, when I reflect on the past three years, my memories are filled with images of students from our graduating class, giving up their time for the benefit of others: whether it’s raising money for PILF, so that students can afford to pursue legal work in the public interest; putting on programs to apprise underserved members of our community of their legal rights, or to raise awareness about issues like domestic violence, race, immigration, LGBT rights, and other pressing issues; working non-stop in one of our clinics on seemingly impossible cases; or attending late-night SBA meetings to ensure that all of these efforts are possible. I could go on, for the duration of my short time allotted here, with more examples of the ways that we have given back, and still, I would not be able to mention all that we have done. My point is that our institution, and our graduating class of 2012, is bigger than any particular economic moment.   

Another example that sticks out, in my mind, actually involves our convocation speaker, our United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey: Paul Fishman. About a couple months ago, I remember cramming into a packed Wilentz Courtroom, around lunchtime, to hear Mr. Fishman speak, at an event co-sponsored by the National Security Law Students Association and the Muslim Law Students Association. But Mr. Fishman wasn’t there to claim a political victory, or to lead a perp walk; instead, the top federal prosecutor in the state, willingly came to our bastion of progressivism, to discuss, among other things, law enforcement’s recent spying on Muslim students. Now, this is a discussion that had to take place. And maybe it did take place at other schools. But I’m willing to bet, that this conversation took on additional significance here at Rutgers–Newark, given our historic commitment to diversity and our promotion of civil liberties generally.  

And I know that our faculty speaker, Professor Gold, can speak to another important piece of this puzzle, which is our legal clinics. As we all know, the clinics are one of the great strengths of our school. I had the privilege of working with Professor Mandelbaum in the Child Advocacy Clinic, and I can say that she is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to have done a small part to contribute to the important work done there on a daily basis. All of us who have worked in the clinics know, that it’s one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of our lives, and we should all be proud to be part of the pioneering legacy of our clinical programs. This is especially true today, when we could have been putting our time and energy toward an internship outside of the law school, or toward some other means of securing our economic future. But for a lot of us, this is why we came here to Rutgers–Newark, and if we could do it all over again, we wouldn’t change a thing. 

And it’s not just the clinics; this ethic echoes throughout all of our school’s endeavors, and regardless of any one student’s contribution, when we walk across this stage today, we’ll be taking a piece of this history with us; and I’m convinced, that our journey will not stop here, but that we are all going on to great things, to make history, and to add to the legend of our revered institution. If we can survive – and still maintain our commitment to the values that brought us here in the first place – during these challenging times, then anything is possible. 

Now, getting back to this concept of using your degree for good. Obviously, that’s what most, if not all of us want to do. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing that the line between good and evil is a blurry one, especially not today; universal health care, for example, is a good thing; on the other hand, denying a basic human right, like the ability to officially affirm one’s love for another, is an especially callous sort of evil, as our President recently intimated. My point is simply that there may not be as many opportunities, for us, to use our degrees in the way that some of us may have envisioned when we embarked on this journey. That’s just the world that we’re entering today. 

But this doesn’t mean that we throw our hands up and quit. Job markets fluctuate, but a constant, a source of pride for us, is the great tradition that we will officially join when we walk across this stage. There is a strength here at Rutgers–Newark, a strength that we have helped to cultivate, a strength that we should draw upon for inspiration; and we should take comfort in the fact, that no matter what we go on to do with our lives, we made a difference in our short time here.

And with that, I know that we’ll all look back, years from now, as leaders in our respective fields, with pride, in the great legacy that we officially joined on this day, a legacy that we have helped progress even further, despite the economic climate and the additional challenges that it brought. One thing I know for sure, is that no matter the challenges that we’ve faced, I am honored to have gone through this experience with a group of such inspirational people, people who I am proud to call my colleagues, and, more importantly, people who I am proud to call my friends. 

Thank you.