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At Law School Commencement, Grads Urged to Chart Own Paths

Publication Date: 
May 07, 2008
Stanford Report
Amy Poftak

The Stanford Report ran an article about the law school's May 7 commencement, at which Professor Joe Bankman and Dean Larry Kramer were speakers:

"Suppose you could travel back in time and have five minutes with your younger self at graduation. What would you say?" asked Joe Bankman, the Ralph M. Parsons Professor of Law and Business, during Stanford Law School's Commencement exercises May 4. More than 1,500 family members and friends filled Memorial Auditorium for the Sunday morning celebration.

Bankman, who was named winner of the 2008 John Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching and selected to deliver the keynote address by the graduating class, said he e-mailed a survey to his students from the Class of 1988—the year he started teaching at the Law School. In addition to inquiring about their lives and careers, he asked them what they would tell the Class of 2008.

Some gave practical advice of varying relevance, from "Consider the commute: Is it really worth an extra two hours a day to take that job?" to "If you see a shrink, the only stuff that really works is cognitive behavioral therapy." But the most common admonition Bankman received was "follow your own path," he said.

"Work with people and issues, and in places, that you enjoy. Life is too short for compromise," wrote one survey respondent.

"Listen to that little voice inside you," wrote another.

"Don't feel compelled to take any path because other people think you should," advised another '88 graduate. "It's your life and you owe it to yourself to find something soul-satisfying to do during your working hours."

"It's important advice but it's not exactly as concrete as you might want, is it?" joked Bankman. "I mean, it would have been better if they had told you the secret [is] labor law is where it's at. Or that everything goes great in Seattle."

Bankman continued more seriously: "They left you with the responsibility of listening for and following that inner voice.


After Bankman's speech, Larry Kramer, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of the Law School, proffered advice in the context of several classic law cases. One case Kramer cited was Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., in which the judge told the plaintiff: "The timorous may remain at home."

"Don't you be timorous," said Kramer. "We're facing terrible challenges today. But if history teaches anything, it is that great challenges bring great opportunities. And, indeed, you leave here with opportunities to make a difference that are indeed rare."