Delivering Elon University School of Law's 2010 Commencement address on May 23, United States Senator Kay Hagan encouraged graduates to become fearless and dedicated advocates, working to ensure the proper implementation of the law, righting injustices, and building better opportunities for society.
At the ceremony, held at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro, George R. Johnson, Jr., dean of Elon University School of Law, said Hagan represented the finest qualities of service and leadership as a member of the legal profession.
“Our speaker is a true lawyer leader, whose life and work embody the qualities of service and professionalism that are the hallmarks of this law school and Elon University,” Johnson said. “For more than a decade, Senator Kay Hagan has worked for the people of North Carolina as a champion of working families, quality education, sound fiscal policy, and a clean environment. We are especially fortunate to have one of the nation’s and North Carolina’s truly great lawyer leaders to address North Carolina’s newest lawyer leaders, who can take great inspiration from her sterling examples of service and leadership—to her family, to her community, to her profession, to our nation.”
In her remarks, Hagan cited the recent economic crisis and the civil rights movements of women and African Americans as examples where leadership was required to shape the law in ways that better serve society.
“Too may of us assume that the law will keep us safe, that it will protect us from harm,” Hagan said. “We assume that the law will be used for good, to promote our democracy. But good lawyers understand that there have been too many examples, both today and in our country’s long history, where the law has not worked as we assumed. In a democracy, the laws are a reflection of our civic life, and when they do not serve our civic life, our democracy is threatened.”
Hagan emphasized the opportunities that the Class of 2010 will have in shaping the law for the betterment of society.
“You will be successful if you focus on being a good lawyer, because no matter the economic circumstances, good lawyers will always be in demand,” Hagan said. “What I mean by ‘good lawyer’ is someone who respects the law, as a foundation of our democracy, the protector of our rights and freedoms, and the codified expression of how we, as a society, live our lives.”
In her challenge to the class, Hagan urged them each to identify how they could contribute to their communities and to society.
“Never assume the law will take care of itself, that it doesn’t constantly need fearless and dedicated advocates working to ensure its proper implementation,” Hagan said. “I encourage every one of you to look around and evaluate how you can make our society better, where you can right an injustice or perhaps build better opportunities for your neighbors and communities. You’ve gotten a head start here at Elon, where the curriculum encourages civic engagement and community leadership.”
Hagan also described a number of important contributions that the Class of 2010 has already made to the betterment of the greater-Greensboro region.
“The curriculum on its own did not produce the nearly half a million dollars in pro bono service you gave to non-profits in Greensboro, or the lesson plans you wrote to give local teens an education and experience in the practice of law,” Hagan said. “It was you, the students of Elon, that counseled low and moderate-income citizens at your school’s tax clinic, who joined student organizations, cosponsored public forums on the law, and participated in your own community service initiatives. That was all you, and I can tell you that type of work does not go on at every law school. It’s what is going to make you stand out from other law school peers, and what gives me the confidence that you are on your way to becoming not just good, but great lawyers.”
Speaking about Elon University, Hagan said the creation of the law school was the latest in a long trend of achievement for the institution.
“As a long-time Greensboro resident, I have witnessed Elon’s meteoric rise in recognition and prestige, transforming the school into now what is one of the educational jewels of the Southeast,” Hagan said. “Adding a first-class law school, a school that has attracted the support of everyone from David Gergen, advisor to four U.S. presidents and chair of your Advisory Board, to Governor Jim Hunt, to Governor Jim Holshouser, to my good friend and former carpool parent Bobby Long, has only served to buttress the university’s burgeoning reputation.”
Hagan was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008, assuming office on January 3, 2009. She serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.