‘You Can Bend the Arc Toward Justice,’ Childers (J.D. ’17) Tells Classmates
ABA President Linda Klein Tells Graduates ‘To Do Good’
“The moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice, but only because it is shaped by just people, often in the most trying of times,” said Darlene Childers (J.D. ’17), the 2016-17 Student Bar Association president at the 2017 Commencement and Hooding Ceremony on May 12.
Georgia State Law awarded 200 juris doctor and 26 master of laws during the ceremony. American Bar Association President Linda Klein gave the commencement address.
Law students and lawyers are told repeatedly to ensure justice is served, but sometimes that goal can seem illusory, Childers said.
“Times which are complicated, stressful, messy, and so serious for the people involved that lives depend on the moments therein—often, these are times you will be needed. They are the times when you can choose to be a just person, and when you can bend that arc toward justice,” she said.
Not every lawyer will have a chance to set the innocent free or win a Supreme Court case, but everyone has the opportunity to make a difference no matter what practice area they are in, Childers said. We can all choose to bend the arc toward justice.
“When you see a gap in the system, provide a bridge for those striving to turn their lives around, like I’ve watched Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua (J.D. ’89) do firsthand,” Childers said. “You can speak up when the law is violated, ignored or misinterpreted.
“Bend the arc. We may have to hold on with both hands and pull with all our might, but bend the arc,” Childers said. “There will also be times when the collective weight of our profession is needed, because as Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,’ and ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
You can also make a difference in a person’s life by inspiring and encouraging them to pursue a law degree. Childers, a former teacher, was a single mother of two children—then 3 and 6 years old—when she enrolled in the law school’s part-time program.
She recalled standing outside the building on her first day of classes, questioning if she made the right decision. She replayed the question Senior Admissions Director Cheryl Jester George posed to her just months earlier — “Why law school, and why now?” And then she remembered her response: “Because I have a 6-year-old little girl at home who wants to be president. And it’s really hard for me to tell her she can do anything she wants, if I don’t have the guts to do the same.”
She found the courage to walk in. Four years later, “I can now say with some authority, that you can do anything and be anyone you want.”
Childers said she is grateful for everyone who supported her on her journey. “Dean Kaminshine, without the part-time program, so many of us here today would not be realizing our dream of becoming a lawyer,” she said.
“Georgia State Law has taught us the value of our network and how interconnected we will continue to be throughout our careers. We could not have asked for a better foundation on which to begin,” Childers said. “What a privilege it is to be taught by our distinguished faculty, who teach the law while demonstrating the immeasurable value of professionalism, fairness, kindness, ethics and service. You all have shown us the humanity in the law.”
Childers ended with a challenge for herself and her classmates: “Listen to the stories told by those around us. Look beyond the facts of the case and truly see the people who rely on our counsel. And once the threat of unauthorized practice of the law no longer hangs over our heads, I firmly believe our 2017 graduating class will elevate this noble profession and the discourse of our day, and bend the arc ever more toward justice.”
Klein also challenged the graduates. “Do more than just your job—do good,” she said. “Take outstanding education you got here at Georgia State and be of service. Use it to make a difference for others, for your community, for your profession and for your country. That’s what our profession stands for, what the American Bar Association stands for and what you should stand for in your professional life.”
She shared the story of what led her to become a lawyer. Her grandfather ran a small grocery store during the Great Depression, and when she was six, he told her about the tough times. Volunteers would dole out welfare money at his grocery store, dictating what the recipients could and couldn’t buy. He told her it was humiliating for them, and sometimes he would later exchange the food they had received for what they really wanted or needed.
“His customers were his friends and they were being deprived of their dignity,” Klein said. The emotion her grandfather showed in telling her the story stayed with her.
“He told me that I should become a lawyer because lawyers make sure people are treated right,” she said. “His example advocating for those unable to advocate for themselves became a model for entire career.”
Her grandfather wasn’t just a grocer, he was a partner in keeping his neighbors alive and protecting their dignity in difficult times, Klein said.
“And that’s what good lawyers do—stand up for the dignity of people and their equality before the law,” Klein said. “So what are you going to do with that law degree? Someone once told me law profession is a pretty good one for making a dollar—it’s also the best profession I know for making a difference, which is a lot harder.”
You can write a check, sign a petition or like your favorite cause on Facebook, but if you really want to make a difference, get out of your office and take an active role in making world a better place, Klein said.
“You hold that power in your hands the moment you receive your law degree today. You have the power to do good, the power to change lives, the power to help.
“When you see lawyers and legal profession come together to help thousands and bring to other lives the safety and security you and I take for granted, it’s amazing, it’s thrilling. You can do that and you will.”
The faculty hooding team of Jessica Gabel Cino, associate dean for academic affairs; Neil Kinkopf, professor of law; Mary Radford, professor of law; Roy M. Sobelson, professor of law; Kelly Cahill Timmons, associate dean for student affairs, draped hoods over each graduate to signify the conferral of an advanced degree, as part of the hooding ceremony tradition. Lynn Hogue, director of the LL.M. program, hooded the LL.M. graduates. The deep purple hoods indicate legal study, with the blue and red accents representing Georgia State University.
Among the class of 2017, 59 graduated with pro bono distinction, donating more than 13,000 hours of legal counsel and service. 59 graduated with academic honors. As of May 12, the Class of 2017 also raised more than $6,987 for the Class Gift Scholarship Fund.