Howard University

What it Means to be a Howard Law Student

Keynote Oration to the Class of 2006
On the Occasion of the Annual Pinning Ceremony
Julian R. Dugas, L’49
August 15, 2003


Mr. President, thank you for those kind and generous remarks of introduction, and Dean Schmoke, I thank you for having given me the opportunity and pleasure of speaking to these young people as they begin their journey with us here at Howard. And thanks to the faculty and ladies and gentlemen for your presence, and help in making this a joyful and fruitful occasion. Welcome Class of 2006 to Howard University’s School of Law, the birthplace of the 20th century’s Civil Rights Movement, where in the past, giants in law gathered as one, to plan a better America.

You have been selected from among many who sought the privilege and opportunity to walk in the footsteps of these giants. This school, from its beginning, has offered an exceptional educational experience to students of high academic potential who for more than 130 years have assumed positions of leadership in this nation, who were skilled in law but, also brave and courageous enough to confront and fight any and all forms of injustice.

The faculty and I want to be sure that when you leave this place, you are prepared to address the important issues of the times, armed with the best legal education possible. By working together, as a student-faculty team, we can make it happen!

Having decided to train for this profession, you have agreed to play by a new set of rules, learn a new language, and to live by higher ethical standards than those required of others.

However, never forget that your primary objective here is to learn the law and pass a bar, the preparation for which begins today, not at graduation or in a bar review course.

You are here to train to become leaders of tomorrow, not followers, creators of cutting-edge initiatives designed to overcome the myriad problems faced daily by African-Americans especially, and others similarly situated, as they struggle to enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

You did not come here to become members of an oratorical or debating society but to become adept in the art of advocacy and persuasion based upon law and facts presented, not fantasies or illusions.

You are our future visionaries, expected to devise new ways and means to remind the nation of its responsibility to fulfill the promises of the Constitution, not by words, but by deeds.

From the records, you appear to be a superior class. You come from many states and countries bringing with you varied experiences, which when shared, should do much to aid in the solution of the many problems now faced by this nation. I am told that by your applications for admission, one can easily discern that you possess the desire and seriousness of purpose necessary to achieve the intellectual creativity needed for success.

The 21st century has begun and the time has now come for a new and revitalized “civil rights movement.” You should begin now to think of a new definition of “civil rights” and “social engineers” and what those terms mean in an increasingly diverse, difficult, and divided America. This must be done because in the past and to a degree today, this Law School’s niche in the legal training community is “civil rights” and should continue to be so as we reposition our school as the premier authority in this area of law. When you begin this task, look beyond the terms of the past to new and innovative definitions and ways to combat the problems of today, not yesterday. This must be done, Class of 2006, if you are to be true to the legacy and mission of this Law School.

A more compelling reason that this must be done is because nearly 50 years after the landmark cases of Brown v. Topeka et al., the evils of segregation, bigotry, inequality, and injustice still remain! Therefore, you should prepare and plan to work as hard as those who fought and worked in the past to wipe out the remaining vestiges of slavery, segregation, and racism; and though much has been done to curb these evils, they continue to impede the social, educational, economic, and political progress of our nation.

Before you tackle this task, I want you to consider six suggestions.

First and Foremost

Build and maintain a good reputation based upon courage, personal integrity, honesty, and good moral character. Do nothing while here which may negatively affect, in any way, what may be thought of you.

Second

Until you have graduated and passed a bar, be prepared to sacrifice. Give up things and actions which will not contribute to your becoming good lawyers.

Third

Do not over extend yourself physically or financially. Live within your means and capabilities.

Fourth

Be prepared to accept the challenge of a regime of rigorous scholarship, discipline, high academic expectations, and dedication to the study of law above all else. Form good work habits, for nothing of substance will come easy. The practice of law will require many hours and days of hard work.

Fifth

If you do not understand what is being taught in the classrooms, let the professors know. Ask them questions. Remember, a good and secure teacher is one who will listen as much as he or she speaks, for teaching and training you are their primary reasons for being here and their contractual obligation.

Sixth

Mediocrity is not an option. Your future success demands your very best efforts as you prepare for your life’s work. Don’t waste your time or money just to be ordinary. Remember, you came to law school to be the best you can be, anything less is unacceptable. If you follow these simple suggestions, I believe life here will be simpler and more rewarding.

During the coming academic year, the Law School and the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Topeka et al., the cases in which the doctrine of “separate but equal,” set forth in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, was overturned. So what better time than now to remind you of your responsibilities and the expectation that you will continue the fight for the full rights of citizenship and equality which began with Brown, but not yet fully realized?

Class of 2006, you can do no less, for this Law School, its students and faculty, were intimately involved in the planning, preparation, and presentation of these cases. In all, except the Delaware case, there was a strong Howard Law School presence. These attorneys, Marshall, Nabrit, Hayes, Robinson, Hill, and Carter, giants in the law, who lived in the valley of Howard’s Law School, changed the fabric of this nation and the world. It is now your turn to ensure that the nation continues to take the steps needed to make this country a better place to live.

You will hear much about the legacy of these giants and that of Charles Houston, William Hastie, and many others who were also giants in the law, a group too numerous to mention, who lived and toiled in the valley of Howard’s Law School, to make these decisions possible. They should stand out to you as exemplars. They were the visionaries and leaders of the past. You are the visionaries and hope for the future. They were patient, persistent, and thoroughly prepared to do battle in the courts, as you must be in order to meet the challenges that will face you in a new and ever-changing world.

Bear with me, for a moment, for a little history to remind you that the battle against “separate but equal” did not happen in a day or a year. The struggle began against this evil in 1929, 25 years before the decisions of 1954, when the then dean of this law school, Charles Houston, its faculty, students and graduates began preparing the strategy and plans that ultimately led to the decisions in Brown. A full discussion of all the cases leading up to Brown will be discussed with you at a later time.

So much for the past, let’s now deal with today and your future. For we believe that a class so gifted as you, will study hard, learn well, graduate from this place, and pass a bar.

To do this, however, will require that you depend upon and help each other along the way. Remember, there is no other law school in the world like Howard. Your class consists of people of African-American, Latino, Asian, Native and white Americans, whose goals are lofty, not self-centered; a place committed to providing you a caring, nurturing, and respectful environment in which to pursue your academic career; a setting where each person, either student, faculty, or staff, is treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or what their apparent standing in life happens to be, where none are superior; we are family.

Having said all this, I remind you that every generation needs regeneration in order to move forward and that you are that new generation, expected to lead the charge for the next 25 or 50 years or for as long as it takes. Do not stray from the responsibility of eliminating from our midst any and all racial, social, economic, or political restraints that now exist in this great nation.

In closing, to remind you that there is still much to be done is best illustrated by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Michigan Law School case which was based, in part, upon a stated hope or assumption that in 25 years evolutionary change will lead to the end of the need for “affirmative action.” This may be, but, you, the Class of 2006, have the duty today of planting the seeds that will bring an end to racism, which to me, is the root cause of the evils of bigotry, discrimination, inequality, and injustice that continue to infect our great land.

The day that racism is put to rest, affirmative action and all other such remedies, will no longer be needed, but, in my opinion, for today and for a long time to come, the battle for its eradication still rages and you must be ever vigilante in seeking its end.

So again, I say, Welcome Class of 2006, to Howard University School of Law, the valley of the giants in law! The nation is depending on you to move our beloved country forward in its never-ending fight to fulfill the promises of the Constitution and finally, to undo the yoke of bondage we, as a people, have worn too long.

I wish you much success while here at Howard University School of Law.