In his Convocation address to Elon Law’s Class of 2023, the Hon. Marcus A. Shields of the North Carolina District Court emphasized the importance of humility and “being a problem solver” as students begin their legal education.
Each member of Elon University School of Law’s Class of 2023 will bring unique skills and qualities to the legal profession, students were told this week by a prominent North Carolina District Court judge, but there also are common “guiding lights” to greatness: integrity, respect, and accountability.
The Hon. Marcus A. Shields also wants members of the Class of 2023 not to let anyone tell them what they cannot do or achieve. After all, he told Elon Law’s newest students, “there are no limits to greatness.”
“Greatness is exemplifying the utmost integrity, giving any task your best foot forward, always being prepared, being humble, and accepting feedback even if it is constructive criticism,” Shields said in Convocation remarks to the class. “Greatness is not cutting corners and not winning at all costs. Greatness is never losing sight of who you are for the sake of fame or notoriety. Greatness is thinking outside of the box and challenging yourself. Greatness is being a problem solver not a problem creator.”
Convocation for first-year students on August 6, 2021, inside Alumni Gym on Elon University’s main campus was the first official academic program for the largest class to ever enroll at Elon Law. At 171 students, the incoming class surpassed the mark of 164 new students at Orientation set only a year earlier by the Class of 2022.
Getting to know each other is an important part of law school, Shields told his audience. He reminded students that their word is their bond. The legal profession requires attorneys to tell the truth and do what is right, even when no one else is looking.
It’s important to demonstrate your integrity in each interaction, he said. Classmates will take note of who acts with kindness and follows principles of the legal profession over the next 2.5 years at Elon Law.
“These people will be the people you call long after law school to bounce ideas off, to help you continue a case in a county you may not be in, or a state where you need assistance learning how to do procedural things, and even the people you call when you just want to see what a judge is like,” Shields said. “Be kind to one another. Everybody you interact with will remember how you made them feel and how you treated them. And you never know who you’ll need or who will need you in the future.
“It takes a lifetime to build a professional reputation, and it takes just a few seconds to destroy one.”
Following the Convocation address from Shields, students each signed the Elon Law Honor Code as they were introduced by Associate Dean Sue Liemer. They were then greeted by Elon University Provost Aswani Volety, who presented each with an acorn, a symbolic gift offered to Elon students at the start of their studies.
Elon is the Hebrew word for “oak.” The university presents all graduates with an oak sapling at graduation.
The hour long program also featured remarks from Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman, who introduced Shields to the podium; Volety, who praised Elon Law faculty for their accessibility and responsiveness to students; and welcoming remarks from Kelsie Wiltse L’21, president of the Student Bar Association.
“As teachers, Elon faculty members will help you learn to examine more critically, think more analytically, question more insightfully and reflect more thoughtfully,” Volety said. “They will stretch you and challenge you more than you thought possible. I hope you will embrace this opportunity to work with these outstanding thinkers.”
Wiltse encouraged her new classmates to lean on each other for support and to utilize the resources available in law school, from approachable professors to study groups to programs organized by student organizations.
Doing so will help with the transformation of how to think like a lawyer, Wiltse said. It will also assist students with developing accountability for their own actions and for the actions of those around them.
“The way you make decisions and question society around you will change,” she said. “You’ll become more thoughtful and intentional. You’ll accomplish amazing things while you’re here, and in no time, you will boldly charge into the profession and demand positive change.”
Bierman adjourned the ceremony by reminding members of the Class of 2023 about the significance of the moment and their pledge to uphold the Honor Code and the rules that govern the profession.
“This is a great moment for Elon Law and this is a great moment for you,” Bierman said. “Your introduction to the legal profession could not possibly be better. In this setting in the heart of Elon University, before your classmates and the faculty and staff, you are entering in a formal way a lifelong commitment to being part of the solution. And you do so as pioneers, at this institution, with vision and clarity to your goals and aspirations.”
Students should remember that the privilege to be a lawyer comes with responsibility, he added. Lawyers must not only fulfill public duties as officers of the court – they must be true to themselves.
“You will learn more about these professional responsibilities,’” Bierman said, “but, for now, take away that you are entering a noble profession with much potential and opportunity to do good while doing well.”