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2010 LL.M. Class Commencement Address

Khaled Al Tal

Khaled Al Tal, of Amman, Jordan, delivers the LL.M. Address

Khaled Al Tal of Amman, Jordan, was chosen by the LL.M. Class of 2010, composed of 29 students representing 23 countries, to deliver the LL.M. Graduation Address at the May 15, 2010, Commencement Ceremonies. Following is the text of his address.

My name is Khaled Al Tal, and I’m a student at the University of Minnesota Law School, pursuing my Master of Law (LL.M.) degree. The Master of Law is an advanced degree program for graduates of foreign law schools who wish to pursue an academic career or to enhance their knowledge for practice in a specialized area. The LL.M. program at the University of Minnesota Law School draws its strength from the J.D. program. Most courses in the Law School's extensive curriculum are open to LL.M. students.

I come from Jordan—a Middle Eastern country named after the holy river that defines its western border, and with a history that dates thousands of years back. It is also a country of great stories of cooperation and friendship with the United States.

Before coming here, I had a somewhat one-dimensional impression of the American people. It is perhaps not a secret that the image of the United States outside its boundaries is an accumulation of contradictions. On the one hand, and until of late, the United States has often been painted as overtly imperialistic, as a nation of dehumanized markets and corporations. On the other hand, it is the land at the end of the rainbow, where principled cowboys restore peace to the frontier towns, and where fortunes can be made overnight.

When I was much younger, I had the opportunity to live in the United States, in Washington D.C. But the combination of fleeting impressions of teenage life in Quantico Middle School and the image of the United States conveyed by the media did little in the way of preparing my expectations for coming here.

Many years after my Quantico adventures, I came to settle on a career of a corporate lawyer. And when the time came to advance my education, my best choice was to come to the crux of corporate civilization: the United States.

I arrived in the United States at times of financial turbulence and times of change. The election of a new president and the recession have paved the way for extraordinary circumstances. These still are times of difficulty and despair for many, but even more important, times of opportunity and transformation. It is true when they say that prosperity conceals the genius, only to be revealed by adversity.

The hardships that befell this nation tell many a tale of deposed arrogance and greed. They also tell many a tale of the greatness of the everyday American woman and man, their unfailing belief in a shared prosperous future, and their modest and graceful fortitude as they carry a burden worthy of the Titans on their shoulders. For it is these individuals—together—who shape the reality and the future of the United States.

This is the thing that fundamentally altered my superficial impression of the American people. This is the thing, as the years pass by, that I will remember the most from my stay in Minneapolis: the greatness and dignity of the people I encountered and befriended. I will remember the things that I came to appreciate about the Midwestern way of life: the family values, the work ethic, and the pride of everyday Minnesotans as they strive to achieve and to better their different versions of the American dream.

Another thing I will remember is the greatness and the intricacy of the American legal institution: an institution which is a product of the accumulation of knowledge and expertise devised by the greatest of minds to regulate and bring justice to one of the most complex and liberal societies in the world.

It is from this remarkable institution and from this rich experience that I come here to learn, and in as much possible detail. For God is in the details, as the saying goes, and to gain power over one’s destiny, one has to resort to knowledge of the details—knowledge of the workings of this institution and the archaeology of its existence. So many lessons learned, and those are just from the curriculum.

I found even more lessons outside the pages of my schoolbooks: learning from the professors’ personas and mannerisms, from first-hand experience with a federal judge in the judicial observation program, from the everyday experiences, however short, of a way of life in Minneapolis and from my friends and colleagues.

Today we celebrate our graduation. And while we all take the knowledge and experiences of the last months or years and emerge from our self-imposed exile—back on track to our bright futures (hopefully), to endeavor to become well-running gears in the machines of our nations—we have to remember and hold dear the fact that regardless of our occupations, nationalities, or political inclinations, the knowledge we are given is just a tool and a skill. It holds no value outside what we breathe into it in our practice. And it is therefore our foremost moral responsibility and our greatest duty to use it for the greatest good.

As long and as difficult as one may think nine months of reading for a master’s degree in law can be, in retrospect, it seems shorter than the blink of an eye. And so our journey has to end. It will not be easy to embrace the change to come, to launch oneself into the unknown, leaving behind the familiar faces of friends and colleagues. But I take with me the gifts of knowledge and life-long friendships, for which I will remain eternally grateful.

And thus, although I come from a very different place, where the world is viewed through different eyes, there is no doubt that the lessons and the experiences I take with me from here will be part of my capital as I strive to make a better person of myself, and make a better place of my nation, and perhaps someday achieve my own Jordanian dream.

This article was featured in e-Perspectives, spring 2010

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