Maura Healey

Northeastern University School of Law Commencement Address – May 22, 2015

Maura Healey
May 22, 2015— Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
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Thank you so much, Dean Paul.

Good afternoon everyone. It is so great to see all of you and especially to see all of you.

I'm Maura Healy and I am proud to be your attorney general. But I'll tell you what – I am even prouder to be an alum of this great law school. And I mean that.

To President Aoun, trustees, Dean Paul, faculty and staff, friends and family of this great Northeastern community – thank you so much for welcoming me back.

And to you, the class of 2015 – you worked really hard to get here, I know. This is your day. Enjoy it. Let's give another round of applause for our graduates, the great class of 2015. [Applause]

So let me tell you a little something. It was election night back last November. Polls closed at 8 p.m. I was anxiously up in my hotel room awaiting the results. About 9:30 the local news announced that I'd won and about 9:37 I got an email from Dean Paul – before I'd even had a chance to tell my parents the good news – I got an email from Dean Paul asking me if I'd be free to come here today.

And I remember – that's true – I remember it was the first time that anybody had ever called me the attorney general and it was from the dean of our law school. I thought that was pretty cool. I said yes immediately, because of course at that point I had no schedule. I had no scheduler. But I knew there was no place that I'd rather be than with you here today at Matthews Arena. So thank you so much.

Today is personal. My dad went here, undergrad. My sister went here, undergrad. Terrence and I both graduated from this law school. I think I even played a basketball game in college in this very arena. Today is personal.

And I remember that it wasn't a long time ago that I sat where all of you sat today. I've had a bond with Northeastern for many years and a bond with many classes, but the class of 2015 is pretty special, I'll tell you that, because this year we're all starting new jobs in the law together and that's pretty great.

Look, there's a lot of things that I don't know. There's a lot of things that I am still learning. But I have learned a few things since the time I last was here, wearing a cap and gown. And if you'll indulge me, I want to share a few of those things with you.

Here's what I want you to know.

First, believe in yourselves. Believe in yourselves. And know that everything you did to get you here today makes everything tomorrow possible – the hard work, the discipline, the drive, the camaraderie, the teamwork.

Look, you made it through civil procedure and I, too, was once a member of Steve Subrin's class. I think I even managed to be a TA, I don't know how that that all happened. But I know how hard it was to work through civ pro, younger abstention doctrine.

Look you survived going to class. And this is something – you survived going to class while having to interview and get your next co-op lined up that was just weeks away. You endured moving to new cities, new countries even, and you just made it through as has been noted the absolute worst weather ever. I can't imagine what it was like on bus 39.

Going ahead you will be tested. You're going to be challenged. You're going to fail and you're going to succeed. I did. But believe in your core. Hold on to your core. Know that it got you here and it's going to sustain you.

Second, I want you to lean into uncertainty. I want you to embrace uncertainty.

Some of you know where you're starting off. Others of you are still waiting to find your path. But all of you, all of you need, to know that right now, right here today, you have everything you need to go forward in the face of doubts, in the face of debt – and I understand that that's real – and uncertainty.

I want you to take it from me – when I sat where you're sitting, I didn't know my path. I could never, ever have predicted where my degree was going to take me. Like you, I made it through first-year legal writing, sorted myself into summer-winter versus fall-spring. Monumental decision, right? We know that. Made friends, worked out at the Marino Center, and endured withering questioning from professors we won't name.

I had my co-ops, a judge who showed me a courtroom for the first time, a job in-house in counsel when I learned right away that I absolutely, despite my background, wanted nothing to do with being a sports agent for professional women athletes, a firm where the work was challenging and I learned the art of billing. You'll learn that, too. And finally off to New Mexico at a family law practice because well, why not see the Southwest?

Like you, I could not tell exactly how life was going to unfold. Northeastern had shown me that there were a lot of ways to apply yourself in the law, but I was uncertain.

And you know what? When I was sitting where you're sitting, we were just a few weeks away from starting bar review and taking the bar. And two nights before I took the bar exam – you'll be here in a few weeks – two nights before I took the bar exam, I got a call from a judge who was looking through some old resumes and applications and he called me and asked me if I wanted to come in and interview for a job to start in September – true story, that happened –and I went in and I had that interview and I took that job and one thing leads to another.

My message is, don't stress out. It's okay to be uncertain. Things work out. You believe in yourselves. You have everything that you need.

And know that it's in the moments when you feel most uncertain that you're going to grow the most.

The first time when I was a young lawyer I was alone with a client. I remember them looking at me, telling me their problem, asking me for advice, and me having no real clue as to what wisdom I could offer.

The first time I spoke to a jury, I stood up. It was a little jury of six in a session in Cambridge District Court. Wobbly knees, wobbly voice, wondering how it was ever going to convince these folks to believe in my case.

The time I was uncertain about leaving behind the big firm and taking a 70 percent cut, wondering if I ever could make a transition from a business litigator to a civil rights lawyer.

And yes, the time I quit a job I loved to run for office – absolutely uncertain, let me tell you – not knowing if I could give a stump speech or earn a vote.

Learn from that. Lean into uncertainty and let it take you forward.

Third, I want you to own the excitement and the energy and the possibility that you feel. It's the same feeling that I felt sitting in your seats years ago. It's the same feeling that drives me today and that will drive you. You hold on to that and it will serve you well.

And I just want to make a note, acknowledge the words of your student speakers Ken and Emma and Ernest, that's what it's all about. I can't tell you folks how many times since I left this great school I have encountered classmates. I was a summer-winter and I have to say, I didn't obviously you don't know everybody as well in in your class, but you were not going to believe how often you will cross paths with somebody from your class, somebody from this school. There are remarkable Northeastern alumni out there to work with you and to take you into this great network, and the friendships and the relationships and the time you spent together in study group and classes over at Chicken Lou’s – it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. That's what it's all about. You learn and you grow together and you will learn and grow together with lawyers and as a result change the world.

Now finally, here's what I really want you to know. I really want you to know this. I want you to know that the values that I learned in this law school are the values that not only have driven me through my career, they're the values that made possible my career.

You know that expression that Dunkin Donuts ad, right – America runs on Dunkins. I'm telling you, my career has run on the values of Northeastern Law School, and you better believe it – your attorney general's office runs on the values of Northeastern Law School.

And they are the values that all of you carry with you when you walk out of here this afternoon with your degrees in hand – public interest, social justice, equality, diversity and excellence – those are Northeastern values. And I would not be here today and I would not be attorney general were it not for the opportunity I had to learn and grow at this school.

I want to take a minute to tell you a story. it's a Northeastern story, which is probably appropriate, but it's a story I've never told before.

As some have noted, I am the country's first openly gay attorney general, but that didn't just happen. I was 24 years old when I showed up on this campus. I was the oldest of five from an Irish Catholic family, and I was just coming out. I was struggling. There was no gay marriage. Discrimination against gay and lesbian people in this country was pretty normalized. In fact, it had only been five years at that time since Massachusetts actually made it illegal to fire someone for being gay.

I chose Northeastern because it was a place that I knew was committed to the public interest, a place committed to social justice, a place that valued learning by doing through the co-op program. But it was also a place that welcomes students from all walks of life and from all circumstances. And I'd heard through my friends in the gay grapevine that at the time it proclaimed itself to be the queerest law school in the nation.

So when I came here, I was accepted. I was accepted by my peers. I was accepted by our faculty. And it was okay, because this was a school that to its very fiber of its faculty, its curriculum, and its student body, celebrates equality and diversity.

Once I got here, I threw myself into studies, study groups, an apartment in JP, even a few relationships, and that felt good. My experience here at Northeastern gave me the footing and gave me the confidence to go forward to a federal clerkship, to work at a large private law firm, to interact with senior partners and with clients and to be myself, to be accepted for who I am and what I do. In time I realized that I was comfortable in my own skin, and Northeastern had given me that.

But Northeastern had given me so much more. Those values of equality, diversity became my own. As I grew as a lawyer, I found myself more comfortable following my heart and following my passion, pursuing work that meant something to me. At the firm, that sometimes meant representing professional sports teams, because I love sports. It also meant signing up to be on the legal team that challenged the U.S military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy.

Well, you can clap, but we lost that case. We lost that case. But I was secure in knowing that it was a fight worth waging.

And in March of 2007, it led me to a conversation with another Northeastern grad in a conference room in the attorney general's office about a little law called DOMA. That lawyer, of course, was Mary Bonauto. She was at GLAD and I was the new head of the civil rights division. Over the course of the next few years, we worked together with our teams to build the case. We won right here, and the dominoes began to fall.

And let me tell you, of the course of what was ended up being five years of litigation, Mary and I met in a lot of conference rooms, had a lot of participation with lawyers at fancy law firms from fancy law schools all around the country, subjected ourselves to moots and all sorts of academe and high-fallout amicus brief discussions. It was…and it was something. But at the end of the day, I want you to know that it was a Northeastern case and that's something you all should be proud of.

The work continues with new marriage equality cases before this court. The first brief that was ever filed with my name on it as attorney general – and this is pretty cool when you get to you actually get to see a pleading no longer as an assistant, you're actually the AG and a brief is being submitted in your name – the very first brief that had my name on it, we filed in February of this year, and it was the brief on behalf of Massachusetts joined by other states fighting for marriage equality.

And a few weeks ago and a few weeks ago this Northeastern lawyer traveled to Washington D.C. to watch that Northeastern lawyer argue the case before this country's highest court. Any day now we're going to get a ruling, and I'm optimistic.

Those are Northeastern values. That's what this school makes possible. When you leave here, you leave with the knowledge, the training, the relationships that have prepared you to be a difference maker, to leave your mark on this world.

But I challenge all of you as you leave here and you begin your careers in the law, think carefully about what that mark and what that difference will be. Because your education, your Northeastern education, is too valuable to belong only to you. The law you practice won't just be yours – it will belong to our whole community.

A lawyer's job is to use and shape the law. It's the force we use to shape and give meaning to our society; the words we use to express our values as people; the tool we use to advance social, racial and economic justice. And in using and shaping the law, each of us as lawyers, is accountable not only to ourselves and to our families and to our clients, but to all people whose lives are touched by those laws.

Now whether you're going into private practice or legal aid, teaching or government, if you're working for a startup or an NGO, your education belongs to all of us and we're counting on you to use it well, to think about the difference you can make.

Because very few can do what you're now able to do. On human and civil rights, environmental and racial justice, on access to courts, criminal justice reform and fair elections, housing, banking, climate change and immigration reform – very few can do what you're now able to do.

Your professors have taught you how to think critically and make arguments and show moxie. Your co-ops have showed you the many different ways you can use the law to serve. You've learned that social justice can be infused into your work no matter where you practice, and you understand, importantly, the value of collaboration over competition, the value of real practical experience.

That's why I'm so excited to hire Northeastern people in my law office. That's why you are needed, no matter where you lurk, where you go to work, we need you all of you to pitch in with the skills and the talents you have. Your education is not yours alone and you need to share it.

So let me leave you with this – don't forget what you learned here at Northeastern. Don't forget your clinics, your co-ops, your professors and your friends. Don't forget that your education doesn't just belong to you. And no matter where you go, believe in yourself, lean into uncertainty, take the opportunity to follow your heart and serve.

I did. It's worked out okay so far.

You're joining an amazing network of alumni. In all seriousness, there is no stronger group of alumni out there than alumni of Northeastern University School of Law. I mean it, and I want to welcome you today to that network. We can't wait to see what you do next. You're going to do great things, all of you, you're going to do great things, so believe in yourselves.

Congratulations! Go out and be great.

Thank you.

Northeastern. “Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, L’98 NUSL Commencement 2015 - Full Speech.” YouTube video, 20:26. May 22, 2015.