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Commencement 2014 Faculty Speaker

John R. Kettle III, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Intellectual Property Law Clinic

Thank you, Dean Chen, for your kind introduction, and thank you Class of 2014 for your invite and for your wonderful applause . . . and good afternoon distinguished members of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees, Chancellor Nancy Cantor,  distinguished and dedicated faculty, administration, staff, alums, and proud parents, family and friends of our graduates. 

When I learned that I was selected to give the faculty speech, I began to think about what I should say and what wisdom I might share with you, so I asked my closest personal advisors, my wife, Melody, who is a graduate of this law school class of 2004, and my children, Alexandra and Sean, who are here today to make sure I stay true to their advice.  Although they didn’t tell me what to say, they did tell me to not be the John Kettle that they know at home (“apparently I’m boring”) . . . but to be the John Kettle that they have seen at school. In other words, they said I need to make sure that I sound intelligent, charming, and witty. I will try my best.

Kettle at commencement
Teaching, especially in law school, is a wonderful calling in life. I believe I have one of the best jobs at the law school . . . teaching subjects I have a passion for and supervising students in our outstanding clinical program.

I am aware that numerous surveys have shown that most graduates do not recall what their faculty commencement speakers said, and many don't even recall whether there was a faculty commencement speaker. When I was sitting where you are 29 years ago (“which was actually down the road at Newark Symphony Hall”), I don’t recall whether there was a faculty speaker. It is likely that there was . . . and . . . actually one of my colleagues behind me could have been that speaker. By any chance was it you Professor Sclar? Professor Hyman? Professor Askin? Professor Raveson? I better stop since I’m unfairly giving away the age of some of my valued colleagues and friends.

I know that Vice Dean Weisbord was concerned that, with all the snow closings, some you might end up an hour or so short of the required hours to graduate. It was suggested (“not by Dean Weisbord”) that to play it safe I could use my time now to make up that hour or so for you. Would I dare do such a thing? 

I know I am an obstacle between you and your Juris Doctor diplomas. So let me assure you that, as the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner told each of his managers: "I won't keep you long." (“Professor Ball, I suspect you might have liked that one.”)

What I am going to do to help me accomplish this is to follow a three-part rule. For many of you it’s not Jay Foonsberg’s three-part rule that you have heard me talk about before on how to achieve a successful million dollar practice . . . Rule 1: money up front, Rule 2: money up front, Rule 3: money up front, but the three-part rule about public speaking. I call it the 3 Bs. . . be Sincere, be Brief, be Seated.  

In all sincerity, I am honored and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to teach many of you and to get to know you. Little did I know that when I graduated from our law school back in 1985 that I would be standing here at this podium addressing you on this very special day. Teaching, especially in law school, is a wonderful calling in life. I believe I have one of the best jobs at the law school . . . teaching subjects I have a passion for and supervising students in our outstanding clinical program.

I have found teaching to be a two-way street where faculty and students learn from each other. During the last three or four years your faculty has helped you not only learn the law but also helped you acquire techniques of analysis, modes of interpretation, and methods of reasoning. You have also learned that it is often beneficial to think outside the box and to color outside the lines. You have learned a new language with words like assumpsit, res ipsa loquitur, mens rea, actus reus, and interlocutory appeals. 

I too have learned from you, especially a new language . . . words like photo-bombing, YOLO (you only live once), FOMO (fear of missing out) and selfie. By the way you can go to “hashtag RULaw14.”  Actually, don’t let that fool you. Like Joe Walsh of the Eagles, I’m still an analog man in a digital world. 

It is continued learning and that exchange during our lifetime that is so important. What I see as the “yin and yang” of our profession. I hate to break the news but your thousands of hours of law school education are not an end-all,  but part of a lifetime of learning. One thing that is certain in today's world is the certainty of change and the need to continue one's education if you are to keep pace with that change. Like that old saying, “once you stop the learning process you begin the dying process.”   

(Cue card) "Please make plug for our Rutgers Institute for Professional Education. Promote it as an excellent money-saving opportunity to continue your learning process. Thanks, Andy Rossner."

I suspect that at this time (bar exam preparation aside) continuing education is not the foremost thought in your mind. I imagine that many of you have feelings of relief, and that you have graciously bid a farewell to weekend and late-night study sessions, and have kissed good-bye exams and grades, which should make Dean Garbaccio feel happy too. 

You are likely thinking about getting back to the more enjoyable things in life, not on a semester by semester basis but by the change of the seasons. I can see you envisioning sitting down at a table with your family and friends having lunch or dinner . . . or sitting at the bar at McGoverns . . . without books.

You are entitled to have these feelings and thoughts and privileges. After all, you made the commitment and invested the time and hard work to earn your degrees, which many of you did while holding down jobs, and in some cases, raising families.

While on the topic of families . . . you should take a moment to reflect on the contributions and sacrifices that your families, loved ones, and friends made and whose support and encouragement, I'm certain, was critical to your success. As a matter of fact, let’s take a moment and please rise and turn to your family, loved ones and friends . . . and as that Great Philosopher Pharrell would say: “clap your hands if you're happy.” Cclap your hands” to show them appreciation for their patience, support, encouragement and love. They are certainly proud of you at this moment as you should be of them.

Please remember as you move forward with your ever-demanding careers that you take the time to smell the roses and to be with those who really matter the most.

Your class has certainly been special. You have done many outstanding things that have helped raise the Rutgers Law School banner higher. For instance, in addition to what Dean Chen mentioned, members of this class have:

  • Interned with the U.S. Department of Justice
  • Served as a Patton Boggs Fellow in Peru
  • Interned with the JAG Corps (and will be joining JAG)
  • Helped form the Rutgers Law School Veterans Support Group (which, being a veteran myself, has special meaning)
  • Interned with the USPTO
  • Helped establish the Rutgers Chapter of the American Constitution Society for Law & Policy, which received top honors
  • Ten members of this class were selected as Eagleton Institute Fellows
  • And multiple clinic cases and matters were successfully handled with local and national impact 

This sampling, and it’s just a sampling, is indicative of the Class of 2014’s hard work and dedication to the study of law.

Quite frankly, I knew there was something special about this class when I think back to your responses to many of my hypos or exam questions. One that stands out as representative of the potential good lawyering from members of this class was the response to the following hypo:

It went this way: ”The client is a civil engineer threatened with a fee dispute regarding a $10,000 invoice. From what you learned from the client, very little work was done and the dissatisfied customer now demands a new invoice with the services broken down. Your client seeks your help. What do you tell the client regarding the invoice? The response I received was: “I would suggest that the engineer make the following entry on his invoice: Drawing of chalk lines $1, knowing where to draw the chalk lines $9,999.”

Over the past three or four years you have spent a lot of time learning about drawing chalk lines (“learning the law”). Now you have the responsibility of knowing when and where to draw them. It has often been said that as lawyers you will learn that "good judgment comes from experience, and that experience often comes from bad judgment” and that you will learn from both your failures, and from your successes. In the end, however, I am confident that you will make your school proud, your profession proud, your families proud, and yourselves proud.

I want to share with you something the late Robert Kennedy said. "Each generation inherits a world it never made, and each generation must make its own accounting to its children." I have no doubt that you will respond in a manner that will be a credit to your parents, your families, your teachers, and your law school.

There has been a lot said and written about the change over the past 50 or so years in the way that society views lawyers. For instance in the 1950s and 60s, lawyers were viewed as social heroes. They were trusted, acted as advocates of just causes, and guardians of our rights and liberties.

Lawyers were actively engaged in the struggles for civil rights and in protecting the rights of the popular as well as the unpopular. Introducing someone as an attorney meant they were a person of integrity and character.

What has happened to these values?

Class of 2014, you have the power to restore these true values and the ability to bring about positive change. As graduates of the People’s Electric Law School, you are indeed highly capable agents of change.

I want to share with you something the late Robert Kennedy said. "Each generation inherits a world it never made, and each generation must make its own accounting to its children." I have no doubt that you will respond in a manner that will be a credit to your parents, your families, your teachers, and your law school.

Lastly, we know it is still a difficult marketplace and we have probably heard over and over that there are too many lawyers…

But, as I have heard in the past from some of my colleagues here, that's simply not true. We actually don't even have enough lawyers in New Jersey for everybody to have his or her own lawyer. Believe it or not, some people have to actually share a lawyer with somebody else. As you might well imagine, that can be downright unsanitary. Depending, of course, on which lawyer has to be shared.

I'd like to close with an excerpt from a speech delivered at Howard University by Walter Fauntroy, a civil rights activist and former member of the House of Representatives:

"The past is yours, learn from it. The present is yours, fulfill it. The future is yours, preserve it. Knowledge is yours, use it.”

"Do not be blinded by prejudice, disheartened by the times, or discouraged by the system. Do not let anything paralyze your mind, tie your hands, or defeat your spirit.”

We, your faculty here at Rutgers Law School, are now becoming part of your past. I hope you will remember us, as we will remember you (especially you, Kwasi Mendoza); and I hope you will do things to teach us, as we once taught you. I salute and congratulate each of you receiving your degree this afternoon. You should feel justifiably proud of your accomplishment.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have reached the final B — ‘Be seated’.

Class of 2014 . . . You Rock the House!