Delivering the Call to Honor at Elon Law’s new student convocation on August 5, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told students that they can use the law to benefit society and improve the lives of their fellow citizens.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a North Carolina native and former mayor of Charlotte, challenged new Elon Law students to recognize the power of our nation’s legal system. Foxx made his remarks as the school kicked off its academic year on Aug. 5 in Whitley Auditorium on the Elon campus.
“The law is an instrument,” Foxx said. “The law can create opportunity, or it can destroy it. A law can lift people up or it can hold folks down, and part of how you will be measured is how you use the unique skill sets you develop here to make our society better.”
Foxx became the 17th U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 2013, after serving four years as Charlotte mayor. He spent time explaining to law students about his ancestors’ experiences in North Carolina, starting with his great-grandmother, who was sold as a slave at auction. He cited the progress of his family through five generations as a demonstration of the power of laws in our country and the power of education to lift people up. He challenged Elon Law students to bring the power of the law to bear on society’s problems.
“Over the course of five generations the system that made it possible for my great grandmother to be sold into slavery, made it possible for me, a fifth generation North Carolinian, to become the first African American student government president of Davidson College, to be the first in my family to go to law school, to become the mayor of the city of Charlotte, and to now regulate the very trucks that my great-grandfather started driving at the turn of the 20 century,” Foxx said. “That is the American dream and our laws made it possible.”
Discussing the impact of transportation projects on communities, Foxx said highways across the country have often been built in ways that create walls and block access of poor communities to city economic centers. He contrasted those projects with more innovative transportation initiatives today, and said he is working to break down existing walls.
“I was in Los Angeles recently at the groundbreaking of a new light rail line that is going to run into Compton, which three decades ago I know I saw in the movie called Boyz n the Hood. It wasn’t a place that people wanted to go, but now you are seeing this incredible asset that is generating job creation, bringing new housing stock, creating more opportunity for people to live and work where they are,” Foxx said. “Or I think about Rochester, New York, where there was another one of these freeways that is now being taken down, and Columbus, Ohio, is now capping it. You see, the transportation system in this country is part of the thread that knits us together. Building our transportation system is actually one of the few things that we have to do together. But just as we build, we must build in a way that is as inclusive and opportunity enhancing as possible, and that is the work of our department.”
Foxx encouraged entering Elon Law students to be daring in what they sought to achieve, not simply to follow “the bread crumbs” laid out before them.
“You will face many, many, many crossroads in your life,” Foxx said. “There are points of decision every single one of you are going to face. And I think what can be the hardest decision for people who are Type As or high achievers is figuring out what will fulfill you and make you happy when those bread crumbs are sitting in front of you. But I can tell you that once you decide what you want, what you need to do, what your mission is, the pathway makes itself. So I wish for you the ability not only to be great achievers, but to achieve the most important thing, which is to be great achievers in the context of who you are and that you want to be.”
Introducing Foxx, Elon Law’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Andy Haile listed several transportation policy challenges that Foxx is addressing at a national level, including security, environmental concerns and the integration of new technology into an aging transportation system.
“Today, it is my great pleasure to introduce one of the nation’s most prominent, respected, and effective lawyer-leaders,” Haile said. “During the two years that Secretary Foxx has held his position, he has dealt with these challenges and developments with wisdom and judgment, balancing competing interests and assessing issues with careful consideration – skills that were undoubtedly developed and honed during his years in law school and in legal practice.”
Prior to being elected mayor, Foxx served two terms on the Charlotte City Council as an At-Large Representative. An attorney, Foxx has spent much of his career in private practice. He also worked as a law clerk for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and staff counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. Foxx received a law degree from New York University’s School of Law as a Root-Tilden Scholar, the University’s prestigious public service scholarship. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Davidson College. He delivered the Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture at Elon Law in 2012.
The convocation ceremony included remarks by Provost and Executive Vice President Steven D. House, Dean and Professor of Law Luke Bierman, University Chaplain Janet F. Fuller and Elon Law’s Student Bar Association President Matt Millisor. Entering students at the convocation signed a document expressing their commitment to Elon Law’s honor code.
On August 4, Elon Law welcomed an enrolling class of 132 students, 18 percent larger than last year’s class and selected from an applicant pool 14 percent higher than 2014, indicating a strong endorsement of the school’s groundbreaking new curriculum.