GRUNDY, Va. -- Here is the prepared text of West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher's commencement address at Appalachian School of Law on May 12:
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this ceremony that is so important for all of us here today.
When President Ellsworth invited me to come to Grundy for this occasion, I responded by saying that it would be my pleasure, and that I wish that I could deliver a commencement address in the nature of one given by Tom and Ray Magliozzi of National Public Radio Car Talk fame some years ago at MIT in Boston. But I assured him that I am not that talented. On the other hand, my recollection of the report of that famous Tappet Brothers commencement address was that they – with their dialogue speech – offended the president of MIT and most of the faculty. I certainly would not want to do that here at one of my favorite law schools.
Today is a day of great joy and pride. Victor Hugo said: "Dream no small dreams; they have no power to stir the souls of men." We are glad that you graduates dared to dream big. Dreams and hopes that began many years ago are fulfilled today. What was once a glimmer of an idea to graduate from law school has become a reality. Friends and family and teachers today celebrate you graduates, and you graduates celebrate the support and nurturing from them that have brought all of us to this important event.
Each of these graduates' dreams, commitment, and hard work mirrors the dreams, commitment, and hard work of the founders of the Appalachian School of Law. I have traveled down the windy roads from my home in Charleston, West Virginia, to this school many times over the past several years – because I value this unique school, and I want to support it however I can. Today is not just an important day for these new graduates and their friends and family, but it is important for this school. Today is another step in building a unique institution that serves the people of this region, and the people of the United States. We are proud of the graduates of the Appalachian School of Law – past and present, and we are proud of your school.
It is customary for commencement speakers to say something about the challenges and opportunities facing new graduates. Advice is given, usually of the "go forth and do good" variety. But I seriously question as to whether anyone pays much attention to these kinds of remarks. Nevertheless, I can't resist the pressure of custom – and the captive audience. So here's my two cents on challenges and opportunities, and a little free advice.
You now have your law degrees; you soon will become practicing lawyers. And I welcome each of you to the legal profession. You have every right to be proud of yourselves, as I know your families and friends are.
Lawyers play a unique role in a democratic society. You are about to take your place among those lawyers. Every day, lawyers – people like you – are crafting creative, human, and workable solutions to the most difficult problems of our time. Lawyers often raise the issues, think up the solutions, resolve the controversies, and put together the deals that keep our remarkable society running. Thanks to our justice system, we have a society of civil peace and entrepreneurial opportunity that is the world's envy.
One huge challenge our legal system is facing every day is the tension between individual rights of liberty and privacy, and the pressure to reduce those rights in the name of public safety. Now this is not a new tension. Our nation was founded by people who had the radical idea that the police – that is, the king – could not come into your home without a warrant, unless it was an emergency.
Today, that tension plays out in new ways. For example, can the rights of a person with a mental illness be impaired when there is only a suspicion that the person may be dangerous? Recent events here in Virginia, and even on this campus, show that there are strong reasons for us to re-examine how we balance these interests.
On the other hand, if our history teaches us one thing, it is that giving unfettered discretion to the public officials charged with public safety is the surest way to tyranny and abuse.
It is for this reason that I, for one, deplore things like the provisions in the so-called Patriot Act, that would deny a lawyer to people charged with a crime – in that instance, terrorism. And, it is the reason for a recent case from the Court on which I sit – State of West Virginia v. Eddie Mullens, from nearby Boone County – in which we on a 3-2 vote prohibited police agencies from sending a "wired informant" into a private residence without prior court sanction.
It is precisely when we are using the law to protect public safety that we need more lawyers and legal protectors for suspicious or accused persons. We need more judges to review searches. And we need independent prosecutors and attorneys general, not lap dogs for politicians, to protect due process and our liberty.
You who are graduating will grapple with this tension and similar tensions – as will we all, as citizens.
So, as you face the challenges of keeping our legal system vital and relevant to our society's many difficult issues, my best advice to you is – work hard, prepare well, understand the issues, and lead with your hearts. Lead with the compassion that is our brotherly and sisterly love – it is our greatest human heritage.
Here in law school, you have cultivated and trained your intellects – your heads, if you will. You will need those heads to work as lawyers.
But if there is one lesson I have learned in forty years of using my head in the legal system, that lesson is – the head is not enough.
Nor is the gut feeling instinct enough, either, although it can be very useful.
But while the head and the gut are important, it is the heart – the tempering, moderating spirit of hope, charity, mercy and love – that makes our legal system human, and really responsive to our needs as a society.
Don't ever leave your heart behind.
And it won't be hard to remember the spirit of love and hope, even when things are tough – if you remember this important day.
I would like to wrap up with a few words from a book that originated as a commencement address – written by a famous author who some of you may have read, but for sure, most of you would have had his books read to you. The author is Dr. Seuss, and the book is Oh, the Places You'll Go! It really was a commencement address given by Dr. Seuss some years back. I have chosen a few passages from it to put you on your way today. They go:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who sour to high heights.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
So . . .
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Modecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So . . . get on your way!
Good luck and God bless all of you.