Baldacci Urges Class of 2006 to Be Next Great Generation

May 23, 2006
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David Baldacci

The Class of 2006 faces tough challenges ahead and should “go out and shake up the world,” said best-selling author David Baldacci during his commencement address at the Law School Sunday.

“Every generation has the potential to be great. Every generation has the potential to leave the world better than they found it,” said Baldacci, a 1986 graduate of the Law School. “No generation can be great unless there are great challenges confronting it. You have those challenges today in abundance. No generation can be great unless all members realize that sacrifice, compromise, and altruism are not failings or signs of weakness, and they don’t constitute a consolation prize for being second-best—they comprise honor and a duty collectively held.

“And remember this: the core strength of greatness is and always will be the human desire to show compassion and understanding to others, regardless of what they look like, what language they speak, or what God they believe in, if any.”

Baldacci is the author of 11 consecutive best-selling novels, including Absolute Power and Camel Club, and his books have sold 50 million copies worldwide. He also co-founded the Wish You Will Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across the United States.

Baldacci recalled what made news the year he graduated—the Chernobyl disaster, the Challenger explosion, the warming of the Cold War—but “there was nothing, nothing like Iraq on the horizon. The economy was doing all right, jobs seemed plentiful. The rich of course were growing steadily richer, the middle class seemed to be doing ok. However, not too many politicians or mainstream media talked too much about the poor.”

His first law firm used typewriters, and faxes were the fastest means of communication other than the telephone. “If we won a case it was because truth, justice, and the American way were on our side. If we lost, the client would say it’s our fault,” he said. “Everyone was trying to get ahead. Competition was fierce.”

Baldacci said he believed in the idea that “the future is never so different that the past becomes irrelevant,” but recently began to re-examine that principle.

“Your future, and to a lesser extent mine, is shaping up to be very different than the past,” Baldacci suggested, with the long-term health of government programs like Social Security, core constitutional rights, and even the earth’s health in question.

He recalled President John Kennedy’s call to service, changing the words to reflect today’s reality: “Ask not what your world can do for you but what you can do for your world. For truly we are global now.”

Baldacci pointed to problems that pervade the world today: the growing divide between the rich and poor, global warming, tense conflict between the political right and left, the growing threat of the spread of nuclear weapons.

“It seems to me that the world is teeming with two things right now: ignorance and intolerance,” he said. “Ignorance and intolerance are history’s evil twin superstars….They are at the epicenter of every man-made catastrophe over recorded time.”

Baldacci pointed to growing illiteracy in the United States and the world as one of the major obstacles to defeating ignorance and intolerance. “We apparently don’t read anymore. We don’t think about large social issues with the gravitas they deserve. We don’t synthesize life data and arrive at our own opinions and ideas. We allow others to tell us what to think, what to believe,” he said. “We are Cliff-Noting through life.”

Baldacci said he was appalled at the National Security Agency surveillance scandal. A friend responded to his consternation by noting that most Americans don’t even realize the government’s actions may violate their rights because they don’t even know about the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant.

“You’re uniquely trained to do something about this—perhaps something big,” Baldacci told graduating students. “As lawyers, you are equipped to sweat the small details and never lose sight of the big picture. You are well-read, opinionated, and very well aware of the fundamental rights that govern this country and many lands across the world, and like it or not you will hold positions of authority that will have great impact over many of your fellow citizens.”

Since Baldacci graduated, he said, America has increasingly been seen as a consumer nation. “Being consumers is not our primary role in life. That is not how this country was founded,” he said. “Even the greatest nations have to recreate themselves from time to time or else be resigned to never being what they once were. I think maybe it’s come time for this nation to recreate [itself] as well.”

Society increasingly demands that we work as fast and efficiently as computers, he noted. “Resist that temptation,” he said. “Often quick answers are wrong answers. No client you will ever represent will thank you or remember you fondly for giving the fastest answer to a question that turns out to be wrong. There’s no shame in saying, ‘I need to think about it.’

“It seems sometimes we’re a short-sighted e-mail world with long-term snail mail problems—problems that have no quick fixes, no shortcuts, but can only be solved with reflection and contemplation and a full and unfettered exercise in the greatest tool any of you will ever possess, and that’s your mind.”

Following Baldacci’s remarks, the Law School conferred 376 Juris Doctor degrees, 30 Masters of Laws degrees, and one S.J.D (Doctor of Juridical Science) degree.

Before introducing Baldacci, Student Bar Association President Hill Hardman and his identical twin and SBA Vice President John Hardman delivered an address jointly, rising to the podium to the sounds of a famous inspirational tune. “Today we realized our life-long dream of walking on stage in front of 2,000 people to the blaring sound of the ‘Rocky’ theme song. U.Va. Law makes dreams come true,” John joked.

Both praised the accomplishments of the Class of 2006, including breaking school records for fundraising for public-interest activities and charities and the formation of the Virginia Law & Business Review.
“Nothing better illustrates the magnitude of our impact than our Class Gift,” Hill said. “Over 92 percent of you made five-year pledges to the Law School—the highest participation rate of any graduating law school class in the nation.”

Dean John C. Jeffries Jr. called the Class of 2006 the best the school has seen.

“You leave here as you came—a collection of kind and concerned and motivated individuals, you leave as you came with gifts of intelligence and personality that few can match, you leave as you came with a commitment to achievement, to excellence, to service, but you leave here today with more than talent and commitment, you leave with opportunity and power, with a vastly increased capacity to influence the world around you,” said Jeffries. “The lawyer’s abilities to reason carefully, to argue cogently, to explain persuasively, requires others to pay attention.”

Graduation Awards

Margaret G. Hyde Award
Leslie Carolyn Kendrick

James C. Slaughter Honor Award
Lindsay Blair Buchanan

Thomas Marshall Miller Prize
Herbert Timothy Lovelace, Jr.

Z Society Shannon Award
David Farley Reid

Law School Alumni Association Best Note Award
Leslie Carolyn Kendrick

Robert E. Goldsten Award for Distinction in the Classroom
Robert Charles Richards, Jr.

Roger and Madeleine Traynor Prize
Tam Quang Dinh
Jonathan Richard Marx

Herbert Kramer/Herbert Bangel Community Service Award
Tiffany Marie Marshall

Mortimer Caplin Public Service Award
Cristin Gunther Head

Robert F. Kennedy Award for Public Service
Sarah Louise Conant

Edwin S. Cohen Tax Prize
Benjamin Joseph Angelette

Earle K. Shawe Labor Relations Award
Anthony Augustus Orlandi

John M. Olin Prize in Law and Economics
Eric Andrew Reitman

Eppa Hunton IV Memorial Book Award
Paul Francis Rugani

Virginia Trial Lawyers Trial Advocacy Award
Christopher Robert Kavanaugh

Virginia State Bar Family Law Book Award
Leslie Carolyn Kendrick

Stephen Pierre Traynor Award
Kristen Rae Olvera Riemenschneider

Daniel Rosenbloom Award
Pamela Karten Bookman

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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