New York Times Puzzlemaster Will Shortz's UVA Law Commencement Address

Will Shortz

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz, a 1977 UVA Law graduate, delivered the commencement address at the Law School on Sunday.

May 22, 2016

Dean Mahoney, Morgan Lingar, faculty, graduates, parents, family members, and distinguished guests—

It's a pleasure for me to be back in Thomas Jefferson's "academical village." In planning how to start today's commencement address, I took the letters of ACADEMICAL VILLAGE and rearranged them to spell ACCLAIMED LIVE GALA — which I hope turns out to be apropos.

I also rearranged the letters of DEAN MAHONEY to spell YE HEAD MAN, NO? And for now he is indeed the "head man." But as Dean Mahoney will soon return to teaching after eight years, this anagram will no longer be current.

The new head woman, DEAN GOLUBOFF, anagrams to FOND OF BELUGA. Who knew?

MORGAN LINGAR, by the way, can be anagrammed to NORMAL RAGING. I think she should work on that.

Well honestly, I never expected to be here with you today. Even though I'm a 1977 graduate of UVA Law, I have never practiced or even taken a bar exam. In some ways I feel like a black sheep of the UVA family.

I'm still a little surprised that I was even accepted at UVA. As you know, my undergraduate major at Indiana was enigmatology, the study of puzzles, which I did entirely as independent study. Somebody on the admissions committee here must have thought that was creative.

My original plan, which I did not tell admissions, was to practice law for a few years and make enough money to "retire" and follow my real passion, which was puzzles. But in the spring of my first year I decided to skip the legal career entirely and go straight into puzzles when I graduated. This decision was very liberating, because it allowed me to take whatever courses I was interested in, not things that would necessarily be useful in my career. So, no Trial Advocacy or Trusts and Estates. I did, however, take two seminars on intellectual property, and wrote a paper on "Copyright Protection for Puzzles and Games," which turned out to be the most valuable thing I did here.

In the spring of my third year, the placement office noticed that I had never had a single job interview. The head of the office called me in and asked if I had any plans after graduation. I explained that I had a job lined up. Her face brightened, as this would help her department's statistics. She asked me who it was with. I said Penny Press, which was a publisher of crossword magazines. That's where I had worked during summers at law school. I saw the head of placement write down in her book "Penny, comma, Press, comma," waiting for the rest of the firm's name.

Rather than a traditional talk today, I have brought a quiz — it's an interactive game involving quotations from Thomas Jefferson. Scoring is on the honor system — of course. We're at UVA.

I'm going to quote some things Jefferson wrote or said, each with a blank; you're to fill the blank with one of four choices. Make your best guess. Keep track of your own score.

Here's #1:

1. “______ is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
a) Respect for and understanding the law
b) Genesis
c) Honesty
d) Attending the most delightful new school, the University of Virginia

Well, you guys are good, it is indeed honesty, "c." This was part of an 1819 letter to Nathaniel Macon. Jefferson was decrying stock swindlers and fraudulent bankruptcies. And he wrote: "Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors I cannot say; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the 1st chapter in the book of wisdom."

2. "The glow of ______ is to me worth more than money."
a) One warm thought
b) A well-laid fireplace
c) Satisfaction from worthwhile toil
d) An electric light bulb

Well I got most of you on that one, it is "one warm thought." Satisfaction from worthwhile toil was my bluff. This was a line in a 1773 letter to Charles McPherson about Jefferson's love for books and manuscripts.

3. "When a man assumes a public trust he should ______."
a) Put the interests of others before his own
b) Be transparent in all matters
c) Consider himself as public property
d) Milk it for all its worth

The answer is “c,” "consider himself as public property." Yeah, I got a lot of you on that one too. This was a comment by Jefferson to Baron Humboldt, as quoted in B. L. Raynor's "Life of Thomas Jefferson."

4. "______ is not alluring to pure minds."
a) Money
b) Power
c) Idle conversation
d) Reality TV

The answer is "b," "power." It's from an 1813 letter, in which Jefferson said he prized his family, his farm, his friends, and his books all above exercising power over his fellow citizens.

5. "He who knows most knows ______."
a) That books are more valuable than money
b) His freedom
c) His Lord and Maker
d) How little he knows

Okay, you guys are good. That answer is indeed "d." From 1812. The full quote was: "The wise know their weakness too well to assume infallibility; and he who knows most, knows best how little he knows."

6. "Your uncle Mr. Garland informs me that ... you are ... disposed to the study of the law. ... All that is necessary for a student is ______."
a) Hard work and an open mind
b) A clerkship with a local lawyer
c) Access to a library, and directions in what order the books are to be read
d) About $59,000 for each of three years as UVA tuition

The answer is indeed “c,” "access to a library," and this advice was followed by a long list of books that Jefferson recommended that Mr. Garland's nephew read, some from 10 in the morning till noon, a second set from noon to two, and a third set for later in the day.

In closing, I don't have a lot of advice for you. You're smart. You're ridiculously educated. And as my career path shows, you can take your UVA law degree and do anything you want.

My class of 1977 produced two Virginia governors, Jim Gilmore and George Allen, and a congressman, Randy Forbes. Also numerous corporate leaders and judges, at least two professors at UVA Law School — Paul Stephan and J. Gordon Hylton. And Evan Thomas from my class was a reporter, writer, and editor for Newsweek for 24 years. Really, the possibilities are endless.

So all I want to say to you is ULTRASONIC TANGO. That's an anagram for CONGRATULATIONS!

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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