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

00:07 I mean thank you for that extraordinary

00:11 introduction most importantly your

00:15 decades of dedication to ensuring that

00:17 our nation makes good on our promise of

00:21 equal justice your example is inspiring

00:26 it is urgent and today it is necessary

00:31 on your own and through the students

00:33 that you mentor you've raised up

00:35 countless families and you have straight

00:37 to strengthen to our Commonwealth thank

00:39 you

00:40 your own

00:48 I know I speak for everyone gathered

00:52 here this afternoon when I say that my

00:54 heart goes out to president Kelley in

00:57 less than a year I know how ingrained

01:00 she has become in this university with

01:04 all the students and faculty who call it

01:06 home my thoughts I'm sure all of our

01:10 thoughts are with her today

01:13 Dean Pearlman spite of all of your

01:17 obligations you have never stopped in

01:21 your pursuit of a more just society we

01:24 were a valuable irreplaceable resource

01:26 for the students and faculty who admire

01:28 you and we are lucky to have you as Dean

01:31 thank you sir

01:38 to the touch trustees board Dean's

01:42 faculty and whichever poor soul thought

01:44 it was deserving of honor to agree thank

01:47 you and let me say how honored I am to

01:52 officially become part of the best

01:55 alumni network in New England and now I

02:03 won't get all those weird looks when I

02:04 crash those alumni parties in DC in

02:07 Boston so that's a plus to your students

02:10 speaker

02:11 Sarah given what Mackenzie just did I am

02:17 so grateful that I am your warm-up act

02:18 and not following you I know you are

02:22 going to crush it congratulations and

02:24 good luck and to the family friends

02:32 joining us today thank you and I mean

02:38 that thank you

02:39 I was in law school once and I know that

02:43 you've been listening to daily

02:44 complaints for years the class of 2019

02:49 would not be here today without you and

02:52 I'm sure that they know it so please our

02:56 fellow graduates please stand and give a

02:58 warm round of applause to your loved

03:00 ones behind you because they certainly

03:14 and now let's return the favor class of

03:16 2019 congratulations you guys made it

03:30 and you're late for Barberie

03:33 congratulations

03:36 worst part about graduates law school

03:39 beautiful Boston spring days supposedly

03:42 miss well you were locked your lock

03:45 yourself in moppy law library the late

03:48 nights drinking alone at sidebar after

03:50 you forgot a legal definition in front

03:52 of your whole class three duck boat

03:55 tours spent dodging flying beer cans and

03:58 worshipping sports gods that have

04:00 blessed title town USA and one more

04:04 comment about ten days folks brutal

04:13 karaoke riveting kickball and impossible

04:17 impossible trivia during 1l cup only to

04:20 spend you're mending gears listening to

04:22 Bragg's from Section C there we go never

04:27 let you live it down and now all that

04:32 stands between you and a diploma is a

04:37 ruthless graduation week hangover and me

04:42 one of the only Democrats who does not

04:44 have to rush off to Iowa or New

04:46 Hampshire

04:56 and you guys thought you make it home to

04:58 see Sansa claim the Iron Throne ha

05:03 settle in class of 2019 last week I

05:12 found myself delivering a commencement

05:13 speech to the students LSL college and

05:16 the single best piece of advice I could

05:18 give them was don't go to law school a

05:23 little late for all of you so I'll spend

05:27 the next few minutes telling you what

05:28 I've learned since leaving the seats

05:30 that you're in today

05:33 that starts in a small town in the

05:37 Dominican Republic or as a Peace Corps

05:38 volunteer shortly after graduating from

05:41 college I worked with a group of young

05:44 men were exploited by international tour

05:48 companies as they guided tourists of a

05:51 spectacular set of waterfalls and a

05:53 remote mountainous rainforest together

05:58 we leveraged a little use law to put the

06:02 area under local control thereby

06:05 allowing those guys to earn fair wages

06:08 and convert this natural resource into

06:12 an economic engine for local empowerment

06:17 wages went up the organization made some

06:21 money the environment was better

06:24 protected and the community benefited

06:28 all because of the power of the law it

06:37 barely a mile away a community of

06:40 Haitian sugarcane workers it's almost

06:44 entirely outside the laws protection

06:47 they lived in barns a family to a stall

06:53 no reliable electricity running water or

06:57 sanitation daily life was a struggle

07:03 despite laws written to prohibit such

07:08 exploitation I was stunned yet some of

07:16 the very same Dominicans who welcomed me

07:19 who cared for me showed little sympathy

07:26 there's no racism here they insisted if

07:30 those laws didn't protect them

07:32 that was their fault how could that be

07:41 how could laws be ignored so blatantly

07:44 by good people and obvious service of

07:48 racial bias and economic exploitation

07:53 without consequences those questions

07:59 left unanswered they're a big part of

08:03 how they end up in law school I didn't

08:07 find a whole lot of answers in my went

08:09 out classes either now now

08:15 but a legal aid clinic helps show the

08:18 gap between the laws in the books in the

08:21 practice in a courtroom it spend much of

08:26 my last two years helping tenants who

08:28 are being evicted when a landlord to

08:30 fault that on a mortgage it's a height

08:33 of a foreclosure crisis when bankers

08:36 should have known better teaser rates

08:38 spiked homeowners went bankrupt wrenches

08:42 homes turned to ruins and working

08:45 families were left trying to piece their

08:47 lives together

08:48 a few moments in Boston housing court

08:53 was quite an education case after case

08:57 family after family ruling after ruling

09:02 default judgment after default judgment

09:06 lives upended dreams deferred and their

09:12 questions unanswered the families we

09:19 helped were subject to the very same

09:21 laws that lay beyond the reach of those

09:24 we did what separated who came through a

09:28 system with a fairer outcome and those

09:32 who didn't was simply the presence of a

09:36 lawyer after graduating I became an

09:42 assistant district attorney or all of

09:44 that law that she spent studying becomes

09:46 real real quick and you learn an awful

09:49 lot of what they don't teach you in law

09:51 school about kids breaking into cars and

09:57 homes to grab valuables and turn them

10:00 into quick cash to satiate an opioid

10:03 addiction but a homeless vet arrested

10:07 for disturbing the peace his underlying

10:09 offense was mental illness and no place

10:12 to go about the old the sick the

10:18 isolated the enfermo neural to testify

10:27 thus a perfect bit about people like

10:35 Jimmy one day in the Falmouth District

10:41 Court buried in a mountain of cases my

10:46 ear cut the judge undressing a defendant

10:49 by name during his arraignment how are

10:53 you what are you doing here are you sure

10:58 this is what you want to do looked at a

11:03 supervisor and she pulled me aside

11:07 Jimmy was well known around town he was

11:12 harmless was homeless he had a lengthy

11:15 record of petty offenses it was starting

11:20 to get cold and he needed a place to

11:23 stay so he would go out steal something

11:29 get arrested arraigned receive a bail

11:34 warning not to commit another offense

11:37 and then you would go do it again in the

11:41 hopes in the hopes of getting his bail

11:47 revoked spending the winter behind bars

11:51 with a roof over his head and three

11:55 meals a day

12:01 what an indictment of today's America

12:08 what a judgement the laws that we have

12:11 written the protections selectively

12:14 enforced systemic inequities allowed to

12:19 persist motivated me to try to run for

12:26 Congress where representatives are

12:29 supposed to be able to try to rebalance

12:31 the scales to hear every American voice

12:36 didn't take long to learn that those

12:39 skills weren't limited they weren't

12:41 tilted rather by voices but power it

12:48 isn't often Jimmy standing at my door

12:50 telling me what our system could have

12:52 done or still could do to ease his

12:56 burden someone with resources but I'm

13:01 expendable energy to organize materials

13:04 leverage statistics studies travel to

13:08 Washington and make their case it has

13:14 been yet another reminder of a wearying

13:17 disparity between those with access to

13:19 power and therefore access to the law

13:22 and all of its protections and those who

13:26 can't or who are too tired too exhausted

13:31 too worn out to do so class of 2019 this

13:41 is the system you inherit it is a system

13:46 in dire need of an upgrade of bright

13:49 ideas of bold thinking of a generation

13:53 that believes that our practice of law

13:55 can one day with enough effort and sweat

13:58 and tears bring about that perfect union

14:04 and since that day you stepped foot

14:08 that's into Suffolk law you have not

14:11 asked for permission or waited for

14:13 validation of a diploma to do your part

14:16 Suffolk law students have already

14:18 contributed more than 32,000 hours of

14:21 free legal service to your neighbors

14:23 neighbors facing eviction and racism

14:26 claiming asylum fleeing domestic

14:28 violence and asking for justice when

14:31 wrongfully accused students like Justin

14:35 Rudin

14:36 who spent two years fighting Isis in

14:40 Iraq and Syria only to return to the

14:43 United States and role in law school and

14:46 work pro bono for veterans legal service

14:50 he's already saved the roof over the

14:53 head of one former US prisoner of war

14:55 his family teetering on the precipice of

14:58 homelessness students like Kelly Viera

15:03 who refused to be told what she could

15:07 and couldn't become who has championed

15:10 the school's women of Locke women of

15:13 color law student Association and will

15:16 stand as a beacon of hope and justice

15:18 and are calm most courtrooms as an

15:20 assistant district attorney

15:28 students who rushed into the Marshall

15:31 Brennan program to coach students in

15:33 Boston's public schools about what the

15:35 law means how its enforced and why it

15:39 matters students who have fought housing

15:42 discrimination and brought enforcement

15:45 actions against landlords and companies

15:47 who denied a home to someone because of

15:48 their race disability gender identity or

15:52 sexual orientation graduates the last

15:57 thing in the world you need is my advice

16:00 you didn't take out all those student

16:02 loans to have a member of Congress tell

16:03 you that our nation's pursuit of justice

16:05 has not been perfect but instead I leave

16:11 you with a challenge use your knowledge

16:16 use that passion to demand that laws

16:21 empower rather than exclude because

16:26 today today our law becomes your

16:33 vocation your calling your career and

16:37 your life and you become its heart today

16:45 the legal system that you have studied

16:47 it can no longer be kept at arm's length

16:51 it's comprised of you and of me of the

16:55 graduates to your left and right lawyers

16:58 activists and advocates that have

17:00 dedicated their lives to ensure its

17:04 continued evolution and expansion and

17:09 now it is your turn you must advocate

17:13 for it

17:14 you must shield it you must strengthen

17:17 it you must enable it for those beyond

17:21 its touch be aware of this system that

17:26 you inherited with all of its strengths

17:29 and failures be respectful

17:33 In the field to which you have dedicated

17:35 your lives and be humble enough to know

17:39 that you will practice the law you will

17:44 not perfect it and bold enough to try

17:47 anyway find your own version of Jimmy

17:52 and do not forget him class of 2019 this

17:58 country needs you I know you will not

18:02 let her down

18:03 congratulations to each and every one

18:11 you

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

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