Lessons on Justice

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III at Law Commencement 2019

Congressman Joe Kennedy III tells 2019 graduates: The law can serve ordinary people
U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III delivers commencement address

U.S. Rep. Kennedy

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I mean thank you for that extraordinary
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introduction most importantly your
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decades of dedication to ensuring that
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our nation makes good on our promise of
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equal justice your example is inspiring
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it is urgent and today it is necessary
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on your own and through the students
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that you mentor you've raised up
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countless families and you have straight
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to strengthen to our Commonwealth thank
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you
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your own
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I know I speak for everyone gathered
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here this afternoon when I say that my
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heart goes out to president Kelley in
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less than a year I know how ingrained
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she has become in this university with
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all the students and faculty who call it
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home my thoughts I'm sure all of our
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thoughts are with her today
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Dean Pearlman spite of all of your
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obligations you have never stopped in
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your pursuit of a more just society we
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were a valuable irreplaceable resource
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for the students and faculty who admire
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you and we are lucky to have you as Dean
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thank you sir
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to the touch trustees board Dean's
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faculty and whichever poor soul thought
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it was deserving of honor to agree thank
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you and let me say how honored I am to
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officially become part of the best
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alumni network in New England and now I
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won't get all those weird looks when I
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crash those alumni parties in DC in
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Boston so that's a plus to your students
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speaker
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Sarah given what Mackenzie just did I am
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so grateful that I am your warm-up act
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and not following you I know you are
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going to crush it congratulations and
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good luck and to the family friends
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joining us today thank you and I mean
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that thank you
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I was in law school once and I know that
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you've been listening to daily
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complaints for years the class of 2019
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would not be here today without you and
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I'm sure that they know it so please our
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fellow graduates please stand and give a
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warm round of applause to your loved
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ones behind you because they certainly
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and now let's return the favor class of
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2019 congratulations you guys made it
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[Applause]
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and you're late for Barberie
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congratulations
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worst part about graduates law school
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beautiful Boston spring days supposedly
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miss well you were locked your lock
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yourself in moppy law library the late
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nights drinking alone at sidebar after
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you forgot a legal definition in front
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of your whole class three duck boat
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tours spent dodging flying beer cans and
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worshipping sports gods that have
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blessed title town USA and one more
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comment about ten days folks brutal
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karaoke riveting kickball and impossible
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impossible trivia during 1l cup only to
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spend you're mending gears listening to
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Bragg's from Section C there we go never
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let you live it down and now all that
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stands between you and a diploma is a
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ruthless graduation week hangover and me
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one of the only Democrats who does not
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have to rush off to Iowa or New
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Hampshire
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and you guys thought you make it home to
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see Sansa claim the Iron Throne ha
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settle in class of 2019 last week I
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found myself delivering a commencement
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speech to the students LSL college and
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the single best piece of advice I could
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give them was don't go to law school a
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little late for all of you so I'll spend
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the next few minutes telling you what
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I've learned since leaving the seats
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that you're in today
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that starts in a small town in the
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Dominican Republic or as a Peace Corps
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volunteer shortly after graduating from
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college I worked with a group of young
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men were exploited by international tour
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companies as they guided tourists of a
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spectacular set of waterfalls and a
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remote mountainous rainforest together
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we leveraged a little use law to put the
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area under local control thereby
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allowing those guys to earn fair wages
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and convert this natural resource into
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an economic engine for local empowerment
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wages went up the organization made some
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money the environment was better
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protected and the community benefited
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all because of the power of the law it
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barely a mile away a community of
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Haitian sugarcane workers it's almost
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entirely outside the laws protection
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they lived in barns a family to a stall
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no reliable electricity running water or
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sanitation daily life was a struggle
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despite laws written to prohibit such
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exploitation I was stunned yet some of
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the very same Dominicans who welcomed me
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who cared for me showed little sympathy
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there's no racism here they insisted if
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those laws didn't protect them
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that was their fault how could that be
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how could laws be ignored so blatantly
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by good people and obvious service of
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racial bias and economic exploitation
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without consequences those questions
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left unanswered they're a big part of
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how they end up in law school I didn't
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find a whole lot of answers in my went
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out classes either now now
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but a legal aid clinic helps show the
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gap between the laws in the books in the
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practice in a courtroom it spend much of
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my last two years helping tenants who
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are being evicted when a landlord to
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fault that on a mortgage it's a height
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of a foreclosure crisis when bankers
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should have known better teaser rates
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spiked homeowners went bankrupt wrenches
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homes turned to ruins and working
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families were left trying to piece their
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lives together
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a few moments in Boston housing court
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was quite an education case after case
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family after family ruling after ruling
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default judgment after default judgment
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lives upended dreams deferred and their
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questions unanswered the families we
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helped were subject to the very same
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laws that lay beyond the reach of those
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we did what separated who came through a
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system with a fairer outcome and those
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who didn't was simply the presence of a
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lawyer after graduating I became an
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assistant district attorney or all of
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that law that she spent studying becomes
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real real quick and you learn an awful
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lot of what they don't teach you in law
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school about kids breaking into cars and
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homes to grab valuables and turn them
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into quick cash to satiate an opioid
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addiction but a homeless vet arrested
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for disturbing the peace his underlying
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offense was mental illness and no place
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to go about the old the sick the
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isolated the enfermo neural to testify
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thus a perfect bit about people like
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Jimmy one day in the Falmouth District
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Court buried in a mountain of cases my
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ear cut the judge undressing a defendant
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by name during his arraignment how are
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you what are you doing here are you sure
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this is what you want to do looked at a
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supervisor and she pulled me aside
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Jimmy was well known around town he was
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harmless was homeless he had a lengthy
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record of petty offenses it was starting
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to get cold and he needed a place to
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stay so he would go out steal something
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get arrested arraigned receive a bail
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warning not to commit another offense
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and then you would go do it again in the
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hopes in the hopes of getting his bail
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revoked spending the winter behind bars
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with a roof over his head and three
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meals a day
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what an indictment of today's America
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what a judgement the laws that we have
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written the protections selectively
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enforced systemic inequities allowed to
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persist motivated me to try to run for
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Congress where representatives are
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supposed to be able to try to rebalance
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the scales to hear every American voice
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didn't take long to learn that those
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skills weren't limited they weren't
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tilted rather by voices but power it
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isn't often Jimmy standing at my door
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telling me what our system could have
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done or still could do to ease his
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burden someone with resources but I'm
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expendable energy to organize materials
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leverage statistics studies travel to
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Washington and make their case it has
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been yet another reminder of a wearying
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disparity between those with access to
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power and therefore access to the law
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and all of its protections and those who
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can't or who are too tired too exhausted
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too worn out to do so class of 2019 this
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is the system you inherit it is a system
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in dire need of an upgrade of bright
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ideas of bold thinking of a generation
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that believes that our practice of law
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can one day with enough effort and sweat
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and tears bring about that perfect union
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and since that day you stepped foot
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that's into Suffolk law you have not
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asked for permission or waited for
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validation of a diploma to do your part
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Suffolk law students have already
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contributed more than 32,000 hours of
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free legal service to your neighbors
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neighbors facing eviction and racism
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claiming asylum fleeing domestic
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violence and asking for justice when
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wrongfully accused students like Justin
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Rudin
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who spent two years fighting Isis in
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Iraq and Syria only to return to the
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United States and role in law school and
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work pro bono for veterans legal service
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he's already saved the roof over the
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head of one former US prisoner of war
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his family teetering on the precipice of
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homelessness students like Kelly Viera
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who refused to be told what she could
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and couldn't become who has championed
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the school's women of Locke women of
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color law student Association and will
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stand as a beacon of hope and justice
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and are calm most courtrooms as an
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assistant district attorney
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[Applause]
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students who rushed into the Marshall
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Brennan program to coach students in
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Boston's public schools about what the
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law means how its enforced and why it
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matters students who have fought housing
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discrimination and brought enforcement
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actions against landlords and companies
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who denied a home to someone because of
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their race disability gender identity or
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sexual orientation graduates the last
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thing in the world you need is my advice
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you didn't take out all those student
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loans to have a member of Congress tell
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you that our nation's pursuit of justice
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has not been perfect but instead I leave
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you with a challenge use your knowledge
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use that passion to demand that laws
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empower rather than exclude because
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today today our law becomes your
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vocation your calling your career and
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your life and you become its heart today
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the legal system that you have studied
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it can no longer be kept at arm's length
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it's comprised of you and of me of the
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graduates to your left and right lawyers
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activists and advocates that have
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dedicated their lives to ensure its
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continued evolution and expansion and
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now it is your turn you must advocate
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for it
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you must shield it you must strengthen
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it you must enable it for those beyond
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its touch be aware of this system that
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you inherited with all of its strengths
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and failures be respectful
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I the field to which you have dedicated
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your lives and be humble enough to know
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that you will practice the law you will
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not perfect it and bold enough to try
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anyway find your own version of Jimmy
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and do not forget him class of 2019 this
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country needs you I know you will not
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let her down
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congratulations to each and every one
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you
English (auto-generated)


Congressman Joseph Kennedy III offered Suffolk University Law School graduates lessons about the elusiveness of justice in a commencement address that described “the disparity between those with access to power and protection” and those without connections and too tired to fight the battle.

He explained that this disparity is why attorneys need to remember that the law is personal, and to pay attention to the stories of those both lifted up and cast down by the nation’s system of justice.

Questions he could not answer

Kennedy recounted traveling to the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer, where he helped a group of tour guides who were being exploited by an international tourist company. Through his help they gained increased wages and better work conditions. 

Yet sugar cane workers nearby slogged through their days with no running water, no electricity and no sanitation, and the same people who had welcomed and cared for Kennedy showed little sympathy for these similarly oppressed workers.

“How could that be? How could the laws be ignored so blatantly by good people?” These questions, which he could not answer, pushed Kennedy toward law school, he said.

Once there, he saw the workings of the Boston Housing Court up close, watching families’ lives ruined. “The families we helped were subject to the very same laws that lay beyond the reach of those we didn’t [help],” he said. “What separated those who came through the system with a fairer outcome and those who didn’t was simply the presence of a lawyer.”

Kennedy also recalled a man he met as an assistant district attorney who would commit petty theft in wintertime just so he would be arrested and thus have a warm place to stay and food to eat.

A touch of humor

Kennedy, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Law School ceremony, also shared a bit of humor, noting that as a newly designated Suffolk alumnus he is now a member of “New England’s best alumni network” and won’t get any funny looks when he crashes Suffolk parties in D.C. 

“All that stands between you and a diploma is a ruthless graduation week hangover and me, but I’m one of the only Democrats who doesn’t have to rush off to Iowa or New Hampshire,” he said. “And you thought you were going to make it home to watch [Game of Thrones]. Well, settle in.”

Students promoting access to justice

Kennedy assured the Class of 2019 that the work they had already done in law school was proof that the law could actually serve ordinary people. 

“Since the day you stepped foot onto the Suffolk Law campus, you haven’t asked for permission or waited for the validation of a diploma to do your part,” he said, noting that the class “had contributed more than 32,000 hours of free legal service to your neighbors facing eviction and racism, claiming asylum, fleeing domestic violence and asking for justice when wrongfully accused.”

By way of example of the Class of 2019’s selflessness and service, he shared the stories of a few graduating students, including U.S. Marine Captain Justin Rhuda.

Rhuda “spent two years fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, only to return to the United States, enroll in law school, and work pro bono for Veterans Legal Services.” Rhuda had “saved the roof over the head of a former U.S. Army prisoner of war and his family teetering on the precipice of homelessness,” Kennedy added.

He left the graduates of 2019 with a challenge: “To advance the law, shield it and strengthen it, and enable it for those beyond its touch.”

About Joseph Kennedy III

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III is pursuing a national agenda focused on social justice as he serves his fourth term in Congress, while also addressing mental health and addiction, energy costs, manufacturing and STEM education, reflecting constituent priorities.

Kennedy, a former prosecutor and legal aid volunteer, in 2015 helped establish the first Congressional Access to Legal Services Caucus, which in recent years has fought to retain Legal Services Corporation funding. He also is working to strengthen protections for transgender students and military service members as chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force.

He is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and an original sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University and a JD from Harvard Law School.

Commencement 2019

The Suffolk University Law School Class of 2019 is made up of 328 new alumni who received juris doctor, master of laws or doctor of juridical science degrees. The Law School ceremony was one of three Suffolk commencements held on Sunday, May 19, at The Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion on the Boston waterfront. 

Suffolk University conveyed a total of 2,137 undergraduate and advanced degrees during weekend ceremonies for the Sawyer Business School, College of Arts & Sciences and Law School.

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Suffolk University Law School, located in the heart of Boston, is dedicated to welcoming students from all backgrounds and circumstances and educating them to become highly skilled and ethical lawyers who are well prepared to serve in their local communities, across the nation and around the world. Suffolk Law has strong day and evening divisions. Its curriculum includes specialty concentrations, joint-degree programs and LLM offerings. A wide range of nationally ranked clinical and legal practice skills programs complement internships and moot court competitions that provide students with experiential opportunities. Suffolk University is comprised of the Law School, College of Arts & Sciences and Sawyer Business School.

More from Suffolk University Law School Commencement 2019

Contact

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Office of Public Affairs
617-573-8428

Michael Fisch
617-573-5751