The following is the text of the graduation speech given by Callie M. Vivion-Matthews in December of 2006 at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.
Her speech can be watched at http://smith4.net/Callie_0002.wmvIntroduction
Many of my fellow graduates told me that they voted for me to speak today because they think I am funny, and in fact, have demanded that I be so today. No pressure, right?! They want to laugh – laugh away all the anxiety and stress and craziness that has consumed so much of these last three and half years as a law students. They want me, I think, to put this law school journey into some perspective. So I’ll start by saying this: As a first year student, when we were asked a legal question, we could honestly tell the professor “I don’t know.” Now, when asked a legal question we can say with great confidence “It depends.” We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?!
I had my doubts I would ever graduate from law school and I never dreamed I would be speaking at my own ceremony! I am thrilled and honored to do so.
And like many people in this room, perhaps, we have encountered people in our lives who never thought we could attain a certain goal - or perhaps wanted to know why we wanted to do it in the first place. Life is too short to work so hard, [right?] And certainly there are easier ways to make a living than being a lawyer.
I remember the first person who told me I couldn’t do what I have just done. I was working for a lawyer as a runner - I was about 20-21 years old. I had just gotten married, working during the day and going to school at night at TCC. He’s secretary got very sick and he pulled me into her position because he was desperate and knew I could type fast. And so off I went. I hated it. I had no clue what I was doing. He kept me late every night. I ended up making a D in my history class because I was late to class so many times. I was really mad about it and told him so (as you all might have gathered, I’m not really a shy person!). He apologized and offered to write the Dean a letter. That wasn’t the point. I told him no more late nights on school nights. He finally said “I don’t understand why you are going to school anyway – good help is hard to find.” “You’ll do fine just working and doing a good job.” [a good job??] At the time, I trusted his opinion because he was a lawyer, and I thought he was giving me advice because he wanted what was best for me as his employee. I did not take his advice and I kept on anyway, much to his dismay. I sent him an announcement, both when I graduated college and just recently, to let him know I had accomplished my goal. Not to say I told you so, but to say thank you, in a way. His advice made me think and made me make a choice. He was right – what I was doing was hard – and it got even harder when I had two kids – but as we all know and I’m sure we’ve all experienced, the hardest things to do in life are sometimes absolutely worth doing over again. Perhaps not ALL of law school over and over, but you get what I mean. So, for all of you who had an experience similar to this, I say to you that you made the right choice and you should thank the person who tried to persuade you otherwise.
Going to law school is as much about learning about the law as it is about learning about ourselves. Our limits have been tested: physical, mental, spiritual, financial and senses we didn’t even know we have. My own personal limits started being tested on Orientation Day! I’ll tell you why: during Orientation, there is a segment where the school invites your spouse, significant other, etc. to come and listen to advice and perspectives of faculty and current students. When my husband and I left for the day, I already felt defeated. Why? Because here is the advice I came away with: if you’re single during law school, don’t get married. If you’re married, divorce rate is high. Don’t have kids while in law school. Don’t have debt, don’t have a job, etc. Well, I had all those things, and more to boot. And I thought to myself, there is no way. The cards are stacked against us. My husband looked me and said this: do you want to go to law school? Yes, I replied. Then do it. We are not going to live our lives having regret. If you end up quitting, then at least you know you tried. And when I said, but what about that divorce statistic? He looked at me lovingly and said: I won’t divorce you now, honey, not with the potential of me being able to retire in 5-10 years! [hopefully laughter]
So, my message about self is this: Every day is a discovery of a new part of ourselves. Anyone can be fabulous when life is great. But our most important lessons come from the days/experiences that aren’t so fabulous. And given that many of us will be taking the Bar in February, there will serious lessons to be learned from the some not-so-great days to come. The essence of who we are, of our true character, manifests itself in times when life is most challenging. And when many of us start PMBR tomorrow at 9:00 am, I imagine will be seeing a lot of our true character!
I mentioned my husband earlier, and I would like to make sure we all remember: we did not get to this day by ourselves. This beautiful church is filled with our own tiny villages of support. Those people should be applauded, revered, in fact, for putting up with our hectic, crazy and unyielding schedules for the last several years. No one succeeds in this world alone. I have a husband, as I am sure many of you have spouses, or significant others, who we feel should absolutely win an award for all they have done. We have two beautiful boys who keep me in perspective, my parents, sisters, nieces and nephews, family, professors and friends all have been an unbelievable support group during this really crazy time. And I’m sure all of you have some or most of those same people, too. One of the most important things in life is the ability to give. It is because of their help, their giving of their time, their ear/shoulder, their money, what have you, we are able to be here today. And we, as lawyers, I hope, will be able to give back as well. We succeeded in graduating today because of our own hard work, but our success is not ours alone. It is shared, proudly I am sure, with all those us here today, who sacrificed and made sure that our hard work paid off. And the following statement goes for both us as graduates, and for those who support us: True commitment is coming to the point where we just don’t think we can possibly go on, but decide to do it anyway. No matter what our circumstances, there was a time where we felt (and maybe our supporters did, too) like we had nothing left to give this law school, and yet here stand. I am sure I speak for all of my fellow graduates, when I say to all of you who are here in support, thank you for all you have done. We couldn’t have done it without you. [me start applause].
And I certainly couldn’t share this story with you without these two special people: our two boys.
I started law school when our boys were 5 and 7. They have seen me study, study, study, read, read, read, cry, cry, cry, and then out of nowhere, they save me by making me laugh. Here’s why:
I found it interesting that when people would find out that I was a law student, I would inevitably get asked the same two questions: when do you graduate? and what kind of law will you practice? Well, for a long while, I did not have the answer to either. Today, at least, one of those questions is answered (I hope!). But the other remains to be seen. One day, my husband was asked those same two questions and he responded “oh, she’ll probably be a prosecutor.” Our boys were listening and they looked puzzled by the word “prosecutor”, so he said “you know, put bad people in jail.” Of course, the boys were thrilled. Mom’s a Superhero kinda thing. My husband only said it, of course, just to say something other than, “she doesn’t know yet.” [That statement was getting old.] But, my oldest really wants to be grown up, and so he was just aching to repeat what his dad had said. And so again, sometime later, those same two questions were asked, and he jumped up and said “yea, my mom’s going to law school so she can persecute people!” And my little one yelled “yea, persecute!” My husband and I smiled at each other, and I was just about to correct them when my husband said “son, knowing your mother, you’re probably right!”[hopefully laughter].
Well, I may not know where this journey will take me, but I will find my way, just like we all found are way here. Many of you may already know what you are going to do, and there is nothing more satisfying than that. I find it fabulous that our different interests, backgrounds, motivations, and life-journeys brought us together three years ago and now many of us are finishing together as well. Each of us has a special quality, a unique drive and talent. I found this quote from Louisa May Alcott and I think it is appropriate to mention it here: “Be true to yourselves; cherish whatever talent you possess, and in using it faithfully for the good of others you will most assuredly find happiness for yourself, and make of life no failure, but a beautiful success.” There is nothing quite like starting a journey with total strangers, and coming out with life-long friends. When I started I knew not one soul, and now I can’t imagine my life without my law school family.
So much of what we’ll do as lawyers will be of a serious nature. As professionals, we are expected to conduct ourselves in a certain way, and I respect that, admire it, and will always do my best be mindful of it.
But then there are times, when you just go to a place I call “crazytown.” In other words, you just have those days when absolutely zero is going right, your frustration level is high and your tolerance level is low – we overreact to the simplest things and we just feel like we’re at the edge looking down. That’s when we need to find something to laugh about. My grandmother used to tell me that laughter is the best medicine. I believe her. So much of our energy will be used to be serious, that we need to make sure we give ourselves a break every now and again. Having a sense of humor, being able to laugh at ourselves is a lesson I learned the hard way – but I’ve learned it well now.
So, I’ll end finally, by saying this. Last Friday, about 3:40 am I woke up, wrote this: Keep in mind I was still writing a paper and studying for two exams (that’s my disclosure!) So, here goes:
Law school graduation is a day like no other-
Happiness, sadness, exhaustion and wonder-
With Barbri at our side, now that they’ve taken all our cash-
It’s up to us to study – the bar we must pass!
Anxiety and stress still knocking at our door-
Along with our lenders, car payments and more.
But we forge on ahead and do our best to stay the course-
It’s show time my friends – we must “use the force!”
For better or worse, this is the END of the beginning-
Of a new way of life, a new chapter, a new inning-
Law school is finished –one more exam to take
And from what I hear – It’s a piece of cake!!!
This part is behind us – there’s no turning back-
And after all that we’ve learned – we still don’t know Jack!
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