May it please the Court,
Chief Judge Day, Jacksonville University President and First Lady Cost, Jacksonville Bar Association President-Elect George, Distinguished Guests, including our University and College of Law Faculty and Senior Administrators, Judges, City and Civic Leaders, and most especially the Proud Parents, Families, and Friends of the 26 Mega Picks in our Law Class of 2026.
There are 26 letters in the alphabet. Every one of the 26 characters in our new class is an Alpha Bet.
Never let anyone get away with saying we waste any time getting our students into courtrooms. In fact, our law students may tell people they began their legal education in a courtroom. Some of you were even in this gorgeous courtroom last night witnessing a Fourth Circuit double milestone: It was the first time Chief Judge Day presided over a Fourth Circuit ceremony as its leader, and the occasion of the dedication of the portrait of Hon. Karen Cole, a distinguished and beloved jurist who we are proud to note is a much-honored Jacksonville University alumnae.
Judge Cole has already counseled both of our first two law classes about life and living in the legal profession during their orientations. Last night our students heard every speaker who honored Judge Cole, without exception, praise her focus on helping others throughout her long career, especially troubled families, and children at risk. We can think of no better role model for them to follow.
Which prompts me to note that every time I am introduced as the Founding Randall C. Berg Jr. Dean of the College of Law it is both a humbling privilege and a meaningful teaching moment. That is because it ties our College of Law to the memory of the iconic Jacksonville lawyer whose entire career embodied the highest aspirations of our honorable profession for excellence, ethics, and selfless service to others, especially helping the underserved and less advantaged.
In brief, the late Randy Berg’s life’s work was, as has been Judge Cole’s, emblematic of the mission of your rising new law school: To assure that when anyone encounters a student or graduate of the Jacksonville University College of Law, they will smile with admiration for the quality of their work, their integrity, and their contribution to the public good.
Everyone is talking about the Neptune Beach Mega Billionaire. Today we formally introduce Jacksonville University’s 26 Mega Picks. They are 13 women and 13 men who have earned a place against stiff competition to join the Jacksonville University Law Class of ’26. We are immensely proud that these fine people have chosen to study law with us. Almost 60 percent of the small number of applicants who were admitted said yes. As we are getting to know them, I believe that among the big reasons they chose us is because they want to use law to make a difference, and because they are excited about the opportunity to help build a successful new law school. They have more than a little dash of entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit in them.
In truth, while I doubt any of us won the recent Mega Billion lottery, what our 26 Mega Picks will learn, and then later what they will be equipped to do as lawyers, will be priceless. That is because our students will acquire the knowledge, hone the skills, and gain the wisdom to
properly use the most powerful and valuable tool that humans have ever known, a legally trained mind.
What you 26 new students will be learning and experiencing together during the long days and short three years of the formal part of your lifelong legal education matters.
That is because universities and especially law schools are the field hospitals of wounded democracies and injured, suffering people.
They are the laboratories for discovering new formulas to heal and enable people, even those hurting and at the periphery of society, to congregate in vibrant diverse communities of respect, caring, and hope.
They are workshops for tuning and supercharging engines of economic opportunity and growth, to overcome disparity, want, and poverty.
And they are the studios and creative centers for designing how, because of our differences, we can live better together than apart, peacefully and justly, while protecting the wellbeing of all people and the natural world we share.
Have you heard about the fable of the Crook and the Genie?*
Once there was a mean, selfish, dangerous Crook who stole enough money to buy a magic lantern which he knew had a Genie trapped inside.
After the crook rubbed, pried, and damaged the lantern until he finally released the Genie, the Genie granted the Crook three wishes.
The Crook wished for a world without any lawyers.
The genie said, “Granted. Done. You have no more wishes.”
“Furious, the Crook shouted, “Hey, you said I have two more wishes.”
“So, sue me!,” the Genie replied.
“And nothing you tweet or whine about it to the media will make a difference,” the Genie added.
The moral of the fable is “Be careful about what you wish for.”
“It’s also a lesson that people often complain about lawyers, until they need one. And then they love having their own lawyer.
Even so, a lawyer’s job is much more than being popular, and much more than winning or losing. Beyond doing well, you are expected to do good.
Good, socially responsible and engaged lawyers are needed as much as ever in history. New generations of new lawyers can use the power of law to good effect in the harsh, disruptive, existential struggles playing out every day before our eyes and ears.
Across America, and throughout the world, people are fighting over nothing less than the future of democracy, the future of humanity. We are involved, for example, in historic battles over justice, freedom, equality, globalism, peace and the environment.
The outcomes of these struggles will determine whether the fundamental values, norms, and institutions, which are vital to empowering people and improving the human condition, will continue to evolve and endure, or instead, whether civilized society will fall back into a dark, dystopian world, dominated by power, violence, privilege, immorality, and serendipitous happenstance. If you believe that is hyperbolic, if you think I am exaggerating, then you have not been paying attention. Complacency is out of order.
It is neither grandiose nor new to expect lawyers to rise to the challenge. A worthy goal for 21st-century, forward-looking, legal educators, and with the support of our University, our City’s outstanding bench and bar, and the talented people of Northeast Florida, it is possible for your College of Law to help lead the way in raising the bar to seek and promote improvements, relevance, and the usefulness of legal education and the profession. Though still relatively small by example, your new rising law school can contribute to those trying to best meet people’s legal needs in our rapidly, continuously, dramatically changing world.
Let’s hope that our talented Class of 26 can help put back into the lantern all those Genies that right now are peeking out and can wreak havoc if they get loose in the world. I am referring to the lantern that has protected and guided us for longer than any democracy in history. It is America’s imperfect, continuously evolving constitutional system of limited self-government, equal justice, and liberty. Our constitutional federal system and the rule of law should not be taken for granted. It requires constant, faithful tending by lawyers. They must safeguard the vessel of our Constitution which constrains our worst nightmares and lights the way to our better dreams and a more perfect union.
This Courthouse will become a familiar venue for learning how the system of justice and government are supposed to work. All our students wear dolphin green lanyards with I.D.s to pass through security when their studies take them to this inspiring Courthouse to work in its library and observe lawyers at work throughout the building. Sometimes, when our students wear those lanyards they are called “the Green Lanterns.”
Coincidence. Perhaps. But we aim for them to become super lawyers in a real-life Justice League, like Marvel guardians of the universal rule of law.
Four decades, and a lot more than seven pounds ago, I played sports. I even rowed for my Oxford College team. For me, the toughest part of rowing was not the hard work of training, which was tough, or the burning muscles and lungs as the finish line approached. No, it was the anxious moment, the athlete’s Garden of Gethsemane moment of frightful anticipation, just before the crack of the starter’s gun.
So, we understand and want you to know that it is to be expected, and even healthy and normal, to be both exhilarated and a little nervous just before classes start. Soon you will be blessedly busy with your studies and have less time to worry!
We also understand that adding to the weight of your thoughts, because you are all highly intelligent, perceptive, responsible people, it is natural for you to be aware and concerned about all the tumult and uncertainty in our daily lives and the world around us.
Trust me, have faith, we get it. For example, growing up (in medieval times) my wife Marla and I also were students in a difficult period of U.S. history. We lived through the heartbreaking assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., unrest and violence over the pursuit of civil rights, fighting racial and gender discrimination, and the gut-wrenching Viet Nam War. Our fears were fanned by visible, scary, shiny objects from a foreign enemy flying over our heads, while we children were taught to hide under our school desks and families built bomb shelters in case of nuclear attack from enemy missiles as close as 90 miles south of Florida.
We lived through energy and financial crises, the birth of modern terrorism, hijackings, and hostage takings.
And somehow, we also survived fashion fads like fish net stockings, platform shoes, Nehru jackets, peace medallions, and big hair…and that was just the guys.
So please, remember this:
Law school is not easy and you will work hard, but you would not have been admitted if we were not confident that you are capable of doing well in law school, graduating, passing a state bar exam if you choose to take one, and landing a job that is a good return on the effort, time, and resources you, your family, the University, and the greater Jacksonville community invested in your legal education.
The path to your J.D., for each of you 26 Alpha Bets, is like a 26-mile marathon, not a sprint. To successfully complete the academic program, you do not have to be, and should not be, all consumed by work. Treat your studies like a job. Take care of yourself and your family and neighbors, have fun, fall and be in love, exercise, rest, and repeat as needed.
You do not have to go it alone. Your law teachers and your able, talented, caring law school and university administrators will support you and help you along the way. As will the Jacksonville bench and bar, as you just heard from the Chief Judge and the spokesperson for the Bar Association. Do not take for granted, and make sure to express thanks for, the support you will get along the way from your family and friends.
We also urge you to help each other in your class. That is what the “Fab 14” in our inaugural class did for each other to such great effect, and now they can help mentor you as well.
If I have not yet convinced you that success is your only option, if you apply yourself and life does not throw you a curve ball, as it sometimes does, here is what I tell myself when I am about to do something new and unimaginable, daunting new things like leaving home or the United States for the first time, getting married, having children, buying a house, giving a good short speech… you know, doing the impossible. I just make myself think about how many other people have somehow managed to do the same thing.
Many, many people have gone through law school and become lawyers. As I, perhaps, tediously say, everyone in our new class of great Alpha Bets to do the same.
One more thing to reflect on if you feel stressed, tired, stumped, or begin to wonder whether the effort to earn your J.D. is worthwhile: Just think about all the people outside these walls who admire and respect what you are doing, and wish they could be in your shoes. They envy the opportunity you have.
Do not doubt or be afraid. Take courage as you step out of the comfort and safety of what you already know and are used to doing, and, through your legal education, prepare for a meaningful life of making a positive difference. Ask yourself, if not you, then who?
As I look out here at the 26 faces who together shape the rhombicuboctahedron polygon figure that is our class, I am guessing I am preaching to the choir.
That is because you are not timid. You are quite purposefully willing to give up the relative ease of a passenger seat on your life’s journey and become an able driver to help people navigate and steer through the difficult and often dangerous challenges they will face.
Again, I suspect you have chosen to join our new College of Law because you are attracted to helping build it and strengthen it as we go. If you think about it, our success is as much in your hands as it is in ours. For all of these reasons we thank you sincerely for joining the Class of ’26.
You hear people say: “America does not make anything anymore.” Well, we still make the best lawyers in the world. That is our ambition, nothing less. We aim to help you wonderful 26 aspiring lawyers become the very best in our honorable profession.
Make us as proud of you tomorrow, and every tomorrow, as we are today.
I rest my case.