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2011 J.D. Class Commencement Address

Kate Baxter-Kauf

Kate Baxter-Kauf delivers the J.D. Address

Kate Baxter-Kauf of St. Paul, Minn., was chosen to deliver the J.D. Graduation Address at the May 14, 2011, Commencement Ceremonies by her 257 J.D. classmates. Following is the text of her address.

Good morning faculty, staff, family, and most of all, the Class of 2011. I’m thrilled to be able to say a few words this morning to you all at the end of this three-year—or four, if you’re extra motivated and got a dual degree, or one, if you’re more adventurous than me and traveled across international borders to learn more about the law, but mostly three-year—adventure.

There’s no question that three years is a long time. It feels even longer when you’re revising the same brief over and over again, not sure it’s getting any better, or in the library at 2 a.m. cite checking, or studying for an exam when you know that you’re never going to understand the rules involving that property switching thing in tax that the professor said you had to learn because he had to learn—regardless of how long you study. But when I say three years is a long time, I don’t just mean the five minutes during which you thought your oral argument would never end. I mean that everyone here is at least a little different than when they started. Some people have gotten married, or will do so this summer. Some people have new babies (that I would personally like to steal, even though the MPRE seems to indicate that’s inadvisable) or will have them soon. Some people will be leaving Minnesota, never to return, at least in part because of this year’s 342 feet of snow. Some people will be able to say "promissory estoppel" without giggling. I, personally, have a daughter who was 3.5 months old on the first day of orientation, who turned three yesterday, and who when asked where Mama goes during the day usually says law school but on any given day might just say Target.

I am in the seemingly small percentage of people who enjoyed most of law school. Yeah, finals are not my favorite, but in general? I liked it. What can I say? I was always the kid who got bored in August and was ready to go back to school. As I tell people who express bewilderment, the thing I like most about law school is that at any given moment you get to be in a room with the smartest people you know having a conversation about something fascinating and esoteric that very few people will get to have. I know that’s not everyone’s perspective, but I do think that there are a few things that we can all agree were awesome. So, before we all go our separate ways, at least until TORT next year, here are my five favorite things about law school that even people who thought that they would never survive to get to this day probably enjoyed:

1. That moment after 1L finals are over but before you have any idea how well you did, where there’s nothing you can do except maybe hang out with friends and have a refreshing beverage or take a nap. It’s like winter break in undergrad, except eight hundred billion times more spectacular because it was so much harder up to that point, and you slept so much less. That 1L winter break has the added bonus of being terrifying because you have no idea of your grades, and everyone keeps telling you that grades don’t matter (until they do). Oh, wait.

2. Vicariously shopping for shoes, or catching up on gossip blogs, or pretending you weren’t totally aware of how much the person in front of you wasn’t paying attention. Learning how to answer the question anyways, because you don’t want anyone to know that you budgeted this class hour to figure out what your toddler should be for Halloween. Unless you were in Prof. Cribari’s classes, I guess, in which case you were taking notes on paper and frantically praying your cell phone was on mute or that the terrific lack of reception in the Law School basement would save you, because you can’t afford the one-grade penalty.

3. The Law School turkey. God, I love the Law School turkey. I really have nothing to add on this. (I mean, it’s a turkey. It wanders around and tries not to get hit by cars? Except I’m not exactly sure turkeys are smart enough to avoid automobile accidents intentionally.), except the hilarity of having professors look out the window in October and try not to notice that there’s a turkey on the lawn by the smokers while you’re supposed to be discussing something more serious than gobbling is priceless. I didn’t see the turkey as much this year, and if that turkey is gone I will feel unspeakably sad.

4. TORT. Does anyone not enjoy explaining to your significant other, friends, or family what all these legal words mean and why this is funny? Or listening to double entendres based off of the word penal? Or watching people play themselves but with a slight accent, and figuring out how the writing staff will make the same funny people even funnier than they were the year before? This year’s Saturday night even had the added benefit of getting to watch Governor Mark Dayton dance on stage. I think his moves could use a little improvement from the choreographers, but not everyone can flip all the way upside down in the air, I guess.

And finally,

5. Sorry, this is the heartfelt and sappy part. In all reality, this law school is a very small place. We started as five sections, and went to class together, learned together, even went to lunch together. Three years later, after journals, jobs, work, and friendship, not to mention transfers, four-year programs, and three years of life getting in the way, there are 258 of us graduating today, together.

I guess what I’m saying is that this is a big deal, and it was hard, and a lot of it maybe wasn’t your favorite part of life. But I love that this is the beginning. I love that for the next 50 years, I will watch alumni announcements and see that some of you all are changing international human rights norms around the world, others are moving up the ranks of important businesses, and still, more are making a small difference in the lives of people who could really use help. I love that I will read judicial opinions written as some of you all ascend to the bench, that I will vote for some of you and against others in elections both locally and nationally, and that I will smile in the Minneapolis skyway as we walk past each other to CLEs and lunch meetings. I love that ten years from now, someone will post a joke about the Law School turkey on Facebook, and I will laugh, and that I will clamor to see Law School sweetheart baby pictures, and that having all graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School gives us a team to root for.

Congratulations, Class of 2011. As always, the best is yet to come. Thank you.