Maura Healey

Boston University School of Law Convocation Address – May 15, 2021

Maura Healey
May 15, 2021— Boston University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts
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Healey recorded this address for Boston University School of Law’s Virtual Convocation Ceremony in 2021.

Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2021.

I’m so thrilled and honored to be here, and I first want to thank your fabulous dean, Dean Onwuachi-Willig, for her tremendous leadership of this great institution. Thank you also to the faculty and the staff who made this day possible, for imparting their wisdom and service of others.

Thank you also to the families, to your friends and siblings, for their support and encouragement.

And most of all, thank you to you, the graduates, for choosing to pursue a degree that I know has the potential to give you a lifetime of satisfaction and opportunity.

Now, you guys have been through a lot to get here and we know it hasn't been easy, but there's a reason why you'll go down in history as one of the most unique and resilient graduating classes in the history of Boston University. Because in the face of unprecedented crises and unexpected challenges to your studies, your commitment to this experience is what got you here today, and this experience will shape you for the rest of your lives.

You see, when I hear about law school graduates wanting to become prosecutors and public defenders and to go off to be judicial law clerks or work at top firms, to go and support communities through public interest work or as legal aid attorneys, I am inspired.

When I hear about your LLMs, who span 23 countries and five continents, using this experience to transform financial markets, return to commercial law practice or do human rights work, I’m inspired.

And yeah, when I hear about all the hours you spent on Zoom and the ways you've stayed connected through happy hours, international trivia nights, crafting, apparently, in the late hours, I have to smile.

The world may have stopped, but your learning never did.

Now, I’ve gone back and learned a little bit about some of what makes your class so fantastic. Some of the highlights of your class are truly remarkable – members of your immigrants’ rights and human trafficking clinic who secured the release of two immigrant women who were abused by their doctor and detained by ICE in Georgia. The BU/MIT technology law clinic which helped researchers disclose vulnerabilities in a smartphone voting app. Another student who formed a non-profit in the middle of this pandemic to create space-saving desks for students in need. Your moot court advocacy and appellate advocacy teams made the semi-finals. The Black Law Students Association celebrated its 50th anniversary and was recognized as chapter of the year. BU Law's first women of color collaborative was founded and it's thriving. The public interest project made impactful changes to prioritize anti-racism in its grant application process.

The list goes on and on, and it's impressive.

Here you are as law school graduates, and I want you to take that in and to feel really good about everything that you were able to accomplish these last three years, especially this last year.

I’m also here today to tell you what I think is ahead for you.

You see, before you're admitted to the bar, every one of you is going to be asked to swear an oath. That oath is your admission ticket to the practice of law. Now, each state's oath is a little different but they have one important thing in common.

You see, you're going to be asked to uphold and support the Constitution of the United States. That oath that you will take now as lawyers is a powerful reminder that being a lawyer comes with enormous responsibility. Opportunity, yes, but also responsibility.

Now, if you remember back to 1L year, you all learned that our Constitution guarantees certain rights – civil rights and civil liberties like freedom of speech, the press, religion, the right to equal protection under the law and due process, the right to vote, to get an equal education, and to marry the person you love.

But see, it's not just words on a page. Now as you go forward, it will be your job as lawyers to breathe life into those guarantees.

You see, as lawyers you're the keepers of this nation's promise. Throughout the history of this country, it's lawyers who have worked to apply the text to the Constitution to actual everyday experience and to make meaningful change in people's lives.

So I want you to take a moment to think about some of those who've gone before you. Think about Thurgood Marshall, who after he got rejected from his first-choice law school because he was Black attended Howard University and of course as we know went on to successfully argue Brown versus Board of Education before the United States Supreme Court, the case that established that racial segregation in our public schools violated the guarantee of equal protection.

Or think about somebody like Pauli Murray, who coined the term “Jane Crow” in reference to the unique discrimination faced by Black women. Pauli grappled with complex legal questions in pursuit of the liberation of women, Black people and the LGBTQ community. Just a few examples.

Now look, I know not everyone is going to go out and become a civil rights lawyer. I myself began my career as a business litigator at a big firm and had a wonderful experience.

But whatever career you choose, whatever path you go down – and you will go down many, I’m sure, through the course of your career – you know, okay, know that you have a responsibility to use your legal skills, to use your education, to uphold the promise of our Constitution.

So I want you to remember this and do me a favor. Remember that oath when you're making a sentencing recommendation as an assistant district attorney. Remember that oath when you're advising your corporate client on an acquisition or a deal. Remember that oath when you're drafting a will for a family.

And seek out opportunities to contribute. It may be through your practice or it may be through things you do outside of your practice, like choosing to serve on a board of a non-profit or a local organization, engaging in pro bono work or maybe even running for office yourself.

So when I speak of this oath, this oath that you are now going to take, I’m reminded of being at Logan Airport four years ago when Donald Trump first issued his Muslim ban. I remember being there and listening to the heartbreaking stories of families with loved ones trapped abroad or behind the gates or held for questioning, many of them students, of course.

But you know what else I saw that Saturday afternoon? I saw lawyers – lawyers from big firms and small firms, and public and private practice, literally getting in their cars, leaving their kids’ and weekend activities to go to the airport to see how they could help as lawyers.

And in the days and weeks that followed, we all worked together – immigration attorneys, government lawyers, in-house counsel for our universities including Boston University, our hospitals, businesses – all of us working together to challenge this unconstitutional ban in court. And together we won.

A similar thing happened during this past election. With our democracy under threat from baseless attacks and misinformation, it was lawyers from every legal field mobilizing virtually and in person in a massive election protection effort. Lawyers, including Boston University alums, traveled all over the country – Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta – to serve as election observers, staff recounts, and to handle the many frivolous litigation challenges.

Working together, lawyers defended attacks on our democracy, made sure every vote was counted and won in court every single time.

You see, this was about vindicating those constitutional principles you spent the last few years studying and learning. And as you go forward, it's now about making sure you're living up to the promises of those principles and the oath that you will all take.

Now, you're charged to consider your role in this world. What's the promise of your generation? What will your contributions be?

As you leave BU, law degree in hand, know that you are empowered with all the skill and the opportunity to go out and be great and do good.

But you also should take this moment to ask yourself, how am I gonna help us? How am I gonna help us in this country recover from the events of the past year? How am I as a lawyer going to help build anew after a global pandemic that's exposed some of the cracks in our fractured society?

The disparities we see today are the result of countless choices made by people before us – before you, anyways – and perpetuated by many along the way.

But you – you now as a lawyer will be uniquely equipped to unravel those decisions and to make better ones going forward. You're professional advocates. You're trained to fight for something, to craft strong arguments, to navigate complex institutions, to be a voice for others.

Now I know that most of you will not be going straight into public interest law, but you all have an opportunity to further the public interest and I hope you take that opportunity.

So as you join firms, companies and beyond, your charge from wherever you are is also to help do a few things – build inclusivity everywhere, assess the impact of your actions, and work to root out racism wherever you find it.

As first-year associates, you could start by looking at your own workplace. Are you or is the firm creating spaces for people to speak openly about racism, sexism, xenophobia, mental health, or current events? Are you affirming, validating and being there for your colleagues when things get rough? And are you being the voice for structural change?

In closing, let me just say a few things.

First, you have worked incredibly hard to get here and you should celebrate that, and I know others are celebrating with you today and that is right and that is good.

Number two, I know that there is anxiety about what lies ahead. When I graduated I didn't know necessarily what I was going to do or where things would take me. I just want you to know that with the time that you have put in and with the wonderful education that you've received from Boston University, you have all that you need. I know you're worried about maybe debt, how you're going to pay bills, where you're going to go – all of that. That's natural. But know that it will work out. Believe and trust in yourself and the education that you leave here with today.

And finally, I hope that today, I hope that today is a reminder to you that you didn't work yourself so hard these last three years and your professors and faculty didn't invest in you so much so that you'd graduate and go off and be passive. You weren't instructed to be passive. In fact, you went to law school decidedly because you're not passive. You want change. You wanted to be an advocate for something and you realize that as a lawyer we have a tremendous opportunity to do that.

So as you enter the workplace, please try to remember a few things.

First, you're the graduates of Boston University, home now to Ibram KendI and the Center for Anti-Racist Research. Think about what Dr. Kendi has given us. He's talked about a road map for the work; to show up over and over and over and over again; to fight against racist policies, ideas and actions.

You're going to find in life that we have to do a lot of things over and over and over again. You'll have to push the rock up a hill only to see it roll down again. You'll have to repeat yourself until you're heard. You're going to have to make mistakes and live with fixing them. You'll learn that doing the right thing often feels thankless and that the status quo doesn't usually reward people who try to break it or change it.

But I’m telling you if you build coalitions, if you create solidarity, if you hold true to beliefs and values, you will change things for the better. It may not be obvious at first, but stay the course. One day you won't just be the first-year associate anymore. One day you’ll realize you have influence and power that you didn't even know that you accumulated through time. Much like how inequalities were built one decision at a time, so is equity, justice and fairness.

It's been a long journey to get here and you all have a lifetime ahead of you. I know how hard you've worked. I know the sacrifices it took to get here. So enjoy this moment – you deserve it.

And I know because of the class of 2021, great things are ahead for our country and our world.

Congratulations, graduates. I wish you the best and also I hope that someday I have a chance to work with you.

Boston University. “Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey: 2021 Boston University School of Law Convocation.” YouTube video, 15:12. May 1, 2021.