Posted 1:35 p.m. May 30-Former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell charged Law School graduates to use their education to promote peace and end injustice at Commencement in the Smith Center Sunday.
The United States, Mitchell said, is the most free, just and open society in the world, but with those benefits come responsibility. He told graduates they each “will have an important role to play in preserving and improving our way of life.”
Mitchell stressed that the graduates’ education alone is not a guarantee of self worth, but what they do with it is. He urged each graduate to use their education to demand changes for any cause they believe in, from education to environmental policy or healthcare.
“Never ever forget that in the presence of evil silence makes you an accomplice,” Mitchell said, drawing applause.
Mitchell (D-Maine) served as a chairman of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland that established a historic accord, ending years of conflict between the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the political parties of Northern Ireland.
He also chaired an international fact finding committee on violence in the Middle East. The Bush Administration adopted the recommendation, known as the “Mitchell Report,” which the European Union and many other governments have now endorsed.
Mitchell urged the graduates to follow his lead and use their knowledge to work “to provide the conditions in which each individual can lead a full and meaningful life.”
He advised the crowd to take pride in whatever they do, quoting John Garden’s axiom, “an excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher.”
The saying continues to explain that a society needs to admire both professions, or “neither its pipes or its theories will hold water.”
Only with pride, Mitchell said, can one gain self-respect and the respect of others.
“The more successful you are, the more you realize there’s more to life than wealth and status, and fulfillment will not come from acquisitions and properties,” he said.
Mitchell ended the speech with a wish that each of the new lawyers finds fulfillment in their jobs as he did.
“Real fulfillment in your life will come from striving with all of your physical and spiritual might for a worthwhile objective that helps others and is larger than your self interest,” he said.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg snuck a bit of advice into his welcome to open the ceremony, telling graduates that even though school is over, they should “strive to become life-long learners.”
Philip M. Tahtkran, the outgoing president of the Student Bar Association, presented the Distinguished Adjunct Faculty Service Award to professor Todd D. Peterson.
Tahtkran took a few moments to reflect on his experience at GW Law School, noting it was the racial, ethnic, religious and sexual diversity of the school that made his years here truly memorable.
“It is the students that separate an excellent law school from an adequate one,” Tahtkran said.
This article appeared in the May 20, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.