Making A Life
Prof. Bill Long 5/14/05
A Baccalaureate Address
To the families and friends of the Class of 2005 and the members of this class:
I would like to begin by thanking Dan McCay for the invitation to be with you today as you bring to a close an important chapter of your lives and begin your journey as attorneys. I am especially grateful to be with you today because you are the first class I feel I have gotten to know. I have enjoyed, more than you know, learning about the things that motivate you, stimulate you, frustrate you and inspire you. And, I will look forward to following your careers as you leave here--some of you not going more than a few hundred yards for your next assignment, while others of you will travel thousands of miles.
In the few minutes I have with you, I want to speak to you about the difference between making a living and making a life, and then focus on what it means to make a life in the 21st century. I can dispatch with the "making a living" very quickly. For the last three years we have been doing all that we can to try to teach you rules of law or principles of interpretation that will aid you in making a living. You really don't need to hear anything more from me on that. We have had our chance, for better or for worse.
But in the last three years we probably haven't talked to you much about what it means to make a life. Oh, I think that many people have probably told you repeatedly in the last three years to "get a life," and I hope you finally did, but that isn't what interests me right now. What does it mean to make a life for yourself in the 21st century, to make a life for yourself as attorneys? I have three small points about what it means to make a life.
I. Cultivate Your Heart
The first lesson in making a life is to cultivate your heart. We have tried diligently to encourage you to separate mind and heart and to celebrate the former over the latter at law school. We didn't want you giving us a "gut reaction"; we wanted you to identify, articulate and develop legal principles that clarify a situation. But now I am telling you that it is good not simply to unite the mind and the heart (as if they really ever could be separated), but to spend some time recapturing your heart. Your heart is the best part of you. It is what made or will make someone fall in love with you. Certainly I will never underestimate your mind, your skills, your motivation. But life is about bigger stakes than just those things. It is about your ability to know yourself, to establish a rhythm that fits you and to find your flow in the flow of life.
To cultivate your heart means that you recognize the sources of strength for you and pursue them in a regular and disciplined fashion. What joins you in the deep spaces of your life, in the caverns of your mind, when you are by yourself and have no one else to impress or entertain? Do you have special sacred texts, texts that give you guidance and comfort, challenge and insight, which restore you and send you enriched back into the maelstrom of life? Do you have spiritual disciplines that are a part of your life? Meditation? Prayer? Fasting? Certain kinds of exercise or music that open you up to the richness of life in front of you? You will be liked and honored by others to the extent that you learn to like yourself; you will be useful to others and confident in yourself to the extent you feel you have put down some deep foundations in your own life. Now is the time to do it. Take some time each day for self-renewal, for toning the heart just as one might discipline the body with a workout or a jog. Your strength in the long haul relates to your ability to take care of yourself a little bit each day.
As you cultivate your heart, look for signs in the world of grace, of goodness, of the presence of God or the hints of the effervescent power of life. A poet I have loved for years, who carefully chooses his dense language, is the 19th century English priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Can you feel the energy as he writes?
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
As you cultivate your hearts, may you feel the bright wings of the morning.
II. Cultivate Others
This is probably the thing you least need to hear from me, but I will say it nevertheless: in order to make a life, you must make it with others. The life of law is often a solitary life, requiring you to try to define a problem and follow up on it by yourself, with your own insight and theories determining what you will do. But never lose sight of people who are all around you, cheering you on as you try to make a life. There will be people that want to get to know and appreciate you for what you can give them--your skills and your knowledge. But there will also be people who are attracted to you simply because you have touched a chord in them and they would like to get to know you further. Don't wait for everyone to contact you; take some initiative in this yourself. Be able to identify the diffference between the people who stand with you because they want to support you in your life and those who want to sidle up to you to get what you have as cheaply as possible. The most natural support group you have will be your family, but that will not work for all of you. Sometimes family members don't or cannot understand what you are doing. I think it is true that most jobs come to people throughout life because of connections you make with people along the way. I am quite confident that I landed my legal job in Portland after finishing my education here because I had first touched and been touched by several attorneys in the firm when I lived and worked in Portland in the 1980s.
The principle is this: cultivate others when you don't particularly need anything from them and you will find that they will have something to offer when you need it. So I am suggesting that you cultivate people really for two reasons: first, because they are your lifeline to sanity and perspective in life and second, because they will give you more help than you can imagine when you need it.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long