As prepared for delivery
Good afternoon and congratulations to the class of 2013. Thank you Chancellor, Dean Johnson, and the faculty and staff of UC Davis School of Law. Thank you also for the invitation to be here on this momentous day for these wonderful graduates. To the graduates, I offer you my congratulations for what you have personally achieved by graduating and for the opportunity before you to serve the public with the degree from this magnificent university. To the parents, grandparents, spouses, children and entire families of the graduates, your love, hard work, and sacrifices have helped make today possible. Let all of us stand and support and acknowledge the inspiring work of families who made this day possible for all of you. Thank you to the family.
King Hall Graduates, you enter a world shaped by enormous challenges, defined by extraordinary opportunity, requiring bold decisions. You face these challenges with the law and the Constitution as your foundation, with a chosen field or profession fundamental to our democracy and central to the pursuit of the American Dream. You have stepped forward at a time when public service is not only commendable, it is essential; when our common values of fairness and equality must not only be restated, but they must be re-strengthened.
That is what King Hall alumni, like my colleague, Congressman George Miller; California Senate Pro-Temp, Darrell Steinberg; and others have strived to achieve since their days here as students and now as graduates. That is what is needed now – the service and leadership of UC Davis Law students prepared to lead our communities, our state and our country forward, ready to strengthen our nation with a commitment to the public good, and the courage – courage is very, very important – the courage to make the decisions necessary for our future.
Our country has some very important choices to make. In his study of civilizations, historian Arnold Toynbee found that over time societies face some of the same challenges we are facing today. He said that, at the beginning of a hopeful country, the political leadership was what he called the ‘creative minority’ that inspired the rise and flowering of civilization; that government was there for the good of the people. Some nations – he wrote, those leaders became a dominant majority of ‘exploiters,’ focused primarily on their own power and their own wealth. This shift in mindset and motivation, Toynbee suggests, is the primary cause of schisms in the body politic. It creates schisms in the body social and the body soul. Toynbee found that the fate of each civilization was determined by its’ response to the challenges it faced.
The Greeks had a word for it, Madame Chancellor – ‘ananke.’ In classical Greek, ananke means destiny, but it also means scarcity. The Greeks were suggesting that in times of scarcity, that drives us to make decisions. In time of plenty, you can have many options. In the time of scarcity, you have to establish priorities. You must make decisions. These are moments when history can be shaped through deliberate choice. Our nation’s choices, our country’s destiny, our people’s success are rooted in the strength and security of our middle-class.
That has been the case – it was even written by another Greek, Aristotle, who wrote: ‘it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large and stronger than all of the other classes.’ So today, to meet our challenges, me must restore confidence in our economy and in our future by strengthening the middle class and those aspiring to reach it by creating good paying jobs and ensuring that all Americans participate in our prosperity.
We have many challenges, but the ones I’m talking to you about now are the ones that are on the front burner as we gather here today.
We must address the growing challenge of income disparity. We must close the gaping hole. Forty years ago, the average CEO made about forty times what the average worker made in a company. Now, a few decades later, that disparity has risen to over 350 times – CEOs over their employees. To make certain that every American can participate in our prosperity, we need to change that.
We must also eliminate disparity in our education by strengthening our schools and our teachers. We must remember that nothing brings more money to the Treasury of the federal government than the education of the American people – early childhood, K-12, early education, post-grad, graduate school and lifetime learning. So if you want to cut education or if you want to raise interest rates on student loans, you are not reducing the deficit, you are increasing the deficit – because nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in education. It is the best decision families can make. It’s the best decision families can make for their families, and it’s for our country as well.
We must restore confidence in who we are as a people. By and large, we are a nation of immigrants. We must meet the challenge by enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrants have, in the history of our country, reinvigorated our society, our culture, our economy, and our heritage. I always say that every immigrant that comes here with their hopes, aspirations and optimism for the future – those are American characteristics that make America more American. I thank you King Hall graduates – of how deep the meaning of our best traditions of immigration have been demonstrated through your work at the Immigration Law Clinic; with your assistance to farm workers in the Central Valley; through your counsel to DREAMers – those brave DREAMers on campus. Thank you for lending your leadership to put comprehensive immigration reform within reach.
And let me say that today we’re honored by the presence of a person who has done more than anyone in Congress to make comprehensive immigration reform in reach, and that is Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California. She was the Chair of the Immigration Committee; she’s the top Democrat on the Immigration Committee; she is going to make sure that immigration reform passes – and very soon. She is here to celebrate the graduation of her nephew, Eric. That would be Eric Matthew Lofgren.
To meet these challenges, we must restore confidence in democracy. We must restore confidence in our own democracy by reducing the role of money and increasing the level of civility in politics. I promise you, if we do that, we’ll elect more women, more minorities, more young people to public office – much sooner, and that will be a very wholesome thing for our country. We must uphold our Founders’ vision of a democracy - which was a government of the many, not the government of the money.
We must build on the progress of 12 states to extend equal rights to LGBT families; to make marriage equality not simply a cause for one community, but the law of the land. We must rid all of our laws of discrimination.
We must restore confidence in the safety of our communities by taking clear, effective steps to pass gun violence prevention legislation. We must do this to make our schools, our homes and our neighborhoods safe for our children. As you probably know, or you will shortly – all of us do and anyone who does public service of any kind takes a public oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution, and therefore the American people. We must, we must, we must pass effective gun safety laws.
There are many challenges, but these are some that are right there on the front burner. Immigration, gun safety, and budget priorities that are effective and reflect our values. We are hopeful that you as lawyers will meet these challenges and strengthen our democracy in the courts, in public service and in day-to-day practice of law.
As graduates of King Hall, you know that you have the legal education and the moral wherewithal to pursue the work of justice. How fitting and memorable it is that you, today, graduate on May 17th – the day that the Supreme Court delivered its landmark decision on Brown v. Board of Education, a turning point in civil rights history when segregation was declared unconstitutional. We will always be proud that it was a Californian – Chief Justice Earl Warren, who convinced the court that such a momentous decision must not only be decided but it must be unanimous. We should be very proud of that.
As you know, the entrance to King Hall – I understand the Chief Justice was here when you dedicated the entrance – the entrance to King Hall bears the words of Chief Justice Warren who once said: ‘in this fractured and strident world in which we live, there could be no finer symbol of justice at a law school than to have its house of learning bear the name of the gentle Martin Luther King.’ The reference to Dr. King and all he represents clearly defines your responsibilities today in the world in which we live.
The challenge for you today – for all of us, but for you – the future is yours, you have to take responsibility for it. The challenge is to make that legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and all that we talked about your own. To know that you as lawyers, as public servants, as graduates of King Hall have the legal education, as I said before, and the moral wherewithal, and the confidence, and the courage to pursue the work of justice.
Now, I have a lot more that I want to say to you but I’m standing between you and your diploma and your parties after. So instead, I will just thank you again for the invitation to be with you and extend congratulations to the class of 2013. May God bless you and all your families. May God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very much.”