Core Values Matter, DeMaurice Smith '89 Tells Class of 2015
The Class of 2015 should uphold core values, including having courage and helping others, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith '89 told graduates on Sunday.
"Know that the personal and core values that you want to believe matter, actually do matter," Smith said at John Paul Jones Arena, where the Law School ceremony was held due to inclement weather.
Those values include treating colleagues well, no matter how they treat you, he added. "Your greatest victories will always be those that include the successes of others."
Smith leads the union responsible for protecting the interests of NFL players, a position to which he was twice unanimously elected by a board of active player representatives. He is a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., and was counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. After his government service ended and before his current role, Smith worked as a partner in the law firms Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs.
In a speech peppered with humor and heart, Smith said that he started to speculate at his selection as the commencement speaker, as surely other alumni were better qualified. To realize that might be the case "was even a little deflating," he said slyly, referring to recent Deflategate woes in the NFL.
Though he didn't take courses in antitrust, labor law or sports law — all areas he focuses on in his current role — Smith said he gained a strong sense of camaraderie with classmates and gained "authentic friendships."
"I owe a tremendous debt to this law school because it gave me the start that today it gives each of you," he said. "I look for opportunities to give back, because the law school — as we are fond of saying — took a chance on me."
He encouraged the class to help others the way he was helped.
"'Self-made' is a myth, and therefore we have a duty to reach back, pull up and provide a foundation so that hard work can actually make dreams a reality," he said. "It does obligate each and every one of us to make the same investment for someone else."
He also encouraged students to be courageous in applying their newfound skills. He pointed to his successful negotiation of a historic 10-year collective bargaining agreement in 2011 with the league and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, following a 132-day lockout.
The players' goals weren't about money, he said, but about "a desire to realize a vision that our players are more than fungible commodities."
The resulting agreement resulted in less rough contact for players in practice, broader access to better pensions and better access to health care, he said.
"History proves that the only thing that makes a vision for a better tomorrow a reality is courage," he said. "Courage still, and will always, matter."
He challenged graduates to find "good fights" to tackle.
"Ours is a profession that is designed to arm advocates with the ability to bring fairness to every contest, and it is grounded in a belief that justice is a right that can be achieved by any person," he said.
The students in the Class of 2015 who were once strangers are now classmates and friends, Smith said.
"The years that will come after today will bring you both joy and pain, but the real benefit of living through both of them is that it will sear into you that which is truly important and truly worth living for, every day."
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.