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2010 J.D. Class Commencement Address

Cameron Wood

Cameron Wood delivers the J.D. Address

Cameron Wood of Orono, Minn., was chosen to deliver the J.D. Graduation Address at the May 15, 2010, Commencement Ceremonies by his 285 J.D. classmates. Following is the text of his address.

The night before I entered first grade I asked my mom an innocent but pretty important question: “Do you have to know how to read to go to college?” She just smiled and told me I would be fine. Well, I later discovered that I was right. In fact, you have to know how to read and write in order to go to college. However, then I went to law school and like most of the graduates sitting before me, I began to question whether I had ever really learned these important skills in the first place. When I attempted to brief my first few cases, it was like “See Spot Run” all over again. This time, however, not only was Spot running, but the poor dog also had rabies and bit the neighbor. Now Dick and Jane, Spot’s owners, have a lawsuit on their hands. It was a new language, and a new way of thinking. Feeling overwhelmed, I almost called my mom to ask, “Do you need to know how to brief a case to graduate from law school?”

But, before we knew it, briefing a case and spotting the issue became second nature. We began to see things through a legal lens. For instance, after taking torts for a couple of months we could identify a tort in pretty much any situation, and you better believe we were proud of it. It was surely annoying to our family and friends, but really, we were just looking out for them. I mean, you never know when a “friendly unsolicited hug” could cause paralysis. Spivey v. Battaglia, Supreme Court of Florida, 1972. I never give hugs anymore without first asking permission.

As we progressed through our first and second years, we started to discover the type of role we could each play within, and even outside of, the legal field. For example, some of us knew from day one that we would be litigators. For others it took that first trial practice class to realize it. Some of us knew that we never wanted to step into a courtroom. For others it also took that first trial practice class to realize that litigation was not for them.

In retrospect, we finally understand how far we have come during our three years at the U., and yet in many ways our education is just beginning. I do not know everyone in this class on a personal basis, but I have seen and experienced enough over the last three years to know why I am proud to be a part of it. Thus, I will tell you what I believe makes this law school and, in particular, this graduating class, so great.

I will begin by telling you what it is not. It is not the amount of time we spent in the library. It is not our scores. It is not our rank. It is not the lovely Minnesota weather. And, it is definitely not our wireless Internet service or Dell laptops. What sets us apart is deceptively simple—the people. The people I call my classmates, the people who taught us, and the people who run this school are all unique.   

To begin, my classmates are among the most genuinely passionate people I have ever met. The legal interests that pervade this group are diverse, but a common thread is the level of devotion to those interests. For instance, it is one thing to be concerned for the legal issues faced by victims of Hurricane Katrina. It is quite another to found and organize an annual legal aid trip to New Orleans. It is one thing to be active in a student organization. It is quite another to organize the entire Midwest conference of the Black Law Students Association. It is one thing to have an interest in the law school curriculum. It is quite another for students to take an active role in revising and modernizing it while the Law School enters an important phase in its history with the new strategic plan. In addition, this graduating class has twice the number of students who have recorded 50 or more hours of community service compared to last year. For these U of M students, law school was not just a means to an end. It was a place to cultivate and pursue our interests and passions in the legal field.

It is also important to remember that although we look the same dressed in these robes, we have all overcome different hurdles in our personal lives to be here today. In particular, let’s not forget those graduates sitting among us that have had to balance one of the hardest things they have ever done, law school, with the most important job they will ever have, raising a family. For them law school was truly only a day job. Special recognition should go out to these students as well as their partners, spouses, sons and daughters who have stood by them over the past three years.

My next observation, the class of 2010 is well-rounded. That is to say we know how to have a life outside of the law school curriculum, and we know not to take ourselves too seriously. It struck me last summer during a conversation with students from some other law schools how lucky I have been in this regard. I told them about TORT—Theatre of the Relatively Talentless. I guess I assumed that they would understand why it is a worthwhile activity for law students to spend countless hours writing, directing, choreographing, rehearsing, and performing a law school musical for their classmates. They were surprised to say the least. Sure, other schools have shows, but nothing quite like this. TORT is just one example. Whether it was legal bowling, intra law school basketball tournaments, carnival days, hot dog eating contests, professor talent shows, or midnight wheelie chair races in the library, we found numerous ways to keep our sanity over the last three years, and hopefully we have gained some insight into how to do so for the years to come. I don’t believe that these types of activities and interests detracted from our work ethic. They enhanced it. I knew I had chosen the right school when a professor did not even think twice about letting me walk into her class in the middle of a lecture, dressed as Harry Potter, to cast a spell on her on Halloween.

That brings me to my final observation, community. In many ways law school can be a zero sum game. We all know this. If you do better, that means somebody else does worse. It is an unfortunate reality, but from my experience in the last three years, I would not describe Mondale Hall as having an atmosphere of cutthroat competition. I am very thankful for this. I know that I am not alone when I say that I have made many life-long friends at this school. Almost everyone in this class has been a mentor in some way, whether through a formal program like the orientation committee or Structured Study Groups, or informally by simply reaching out to incoming students to give advice. A specific instance comes to mind that exemplifies this attitude. There was a mock interview day for 1Ls in the spring of our 2nd year. 2Ls were to be the mock interviewers. By the end of the sign up, we had more 2Ls asking to be interviewers than 1Ls wanting to be interviewed. The second year students were eager to share their wisdom with their peers. That is the spirit of this class.

The conventional wisdom is that the world simply does not need any more lawyers. Regardless of whether or not this is true, I know one thing for certain: The world needs more of the type of lawyers who are graduating from the University of Minnesota today. It needs judges who, despite their heavy workload, eagerly look forward to a possible cameo appearance in the TORT musical. It needs public interest attorneys who once organized a legal aid trip to New Orleans. It needs the type of attorney who gladly brags about the hot dog eating contest he won as a 2L. Most importantly, it simply needs passionate and well-rounded lawyers who love what they do. It is for this reason that the graduates before me today are an incredible addition to not only the legal community but to society in general, and it is why I am proud to call myself a part of the University of Minnesota Law School’s class of 2010.

This article was featured in e-Perspectives, spring 2010

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