Law students should embrace their failures and setbacks, and grow from them, Grace Fu ’09 told the Class of 2024 during her orientation address Monday at the University of Virginia School of Law in Caplin Auditorium.

Fu is the general counsel for Booking Holdings Inc. companies KAYAK, an online travel service, and OpenTable, an online restaurant-reservation service. She previously served as executive vice president of human resources, general counsel and secretary of Barneys New York.

Her speech focused on things “I wish I had taken more time to consider when I was in your shoes.”

After having a successful start to her academic life as an undergraduate at Harvard, she said, law school initially challenged her; she did not perform as well on her first exam as she had hoped.

“I questioned my ability to learn new things, and I questioned whether I was truly cut out for a career in law,” she said.

With help from the course’s professor, who was “really generous with his time and his advice,” she got back on track and had a successful law school career.

She said she has since realized that her failures and setbacks allowed her to grow.

“They’ve allowed me to build courage, resilience and grit,” she said. “And without those extraordinarily challenging moments, I would never be where I am today. And so the next time you encounter something that feels to you like a failure or a personal or professional setback, remember how valuable those moments are and how much they will allow you to stretch and grow and achieve even greater successes.”

Members of the Class of 2024 listen during the orientation welcome.

Equally important, Fu said, is for students to “embrace otherness” by befriending and empathizing with people who are different.

“You are joining a profession that is client-serving, and to truly be an advocate for your clients, it is essential you understand your client’s viewpoints, their condition and their feelings,” she said. “You may not always agree with some or any of those things, but you must be able to put yourself in their shoes in order to be the best counselor that you can be.”

Lastly, she encouraged students to be mindful of their own well-being.

“We tend to spend a lot of time with our noses buried in books, computers, smartphones, documents,” she said. “We may lose track of time, and we may lose track of our personal surroundings, our social commitments and valuable relationships. I am certainly guilty of all of the above, and when I haven't prioritized my wellness, my career and my personal life have suffered.”

She added, “And especially in this moment, as the world continues to heal from the isolation and the other effects of the global pandemic, wellness is as important as ever.”

Orientation was the first in-person event of the school year. The Law School used Caplin Auditorium last year as a classroom space because it allowed dozens of students to learn in person while masked and maintaining a 6-foot distance.

Dean Risa Goluboff also addressed new students. Given recent events — from ongoing national conversations on race to political upheaval to the pandemic itself — now is an “important time to go to law school,” she said.

“Going to law school, in my view, is always a good choice, but it will come as no surprise that going to law school now — and I may be biased — is the best and most important thing that you can do, whatever your interests, whatever your relationships to these various unprecedented challenges,” she said. “You will learn new ways to rise to these challenges and to all challenges, to unpack problems, to analyze them, to ask how principles and values and theories relate to the real world.”

Goluboff acknowledged that starting law school during the continuing pandemic “is no doubt extra daunting, but it will also be — I hope — exhilarating, energizing, empowering and ultimately very, very rewarding. And that is not just a hope, but it’s a prediction based on the 20 years that I have spent studying lawyers, teaching lawyers and leading an institution that educates them.”

Assistant Dean for Admissions and Chief Admissions Officer Natalie Blazer ’08 also greeted the class, praising their resilience through the course of the pandemic.

“What you all have gone through just to get to this point, to be sitting here in those seats, to be admitted to Virginia Law in the most competitive law school application cycle on record, on top of everything else going on in the world and in your lives — you are tough,” Blazer said. “You are strong. You are resilient and unbelievably impressive.”

Student Bar Association President Niko Orfanedes ’22 was also among the speakers at the welcome address.

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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