Law School Grads Urged To Use Discretion And Compassion


Publish Date:
June 12, 2010
Stanford University News
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Dean Larry Kramer and professor Daniel E. Ho spoke at Stanford Law School’s 2010 commencement ceremonies. Natalie Glatzel filed this story with The Stanford Report:

Without the benefit of some legal discretion and compassion, there’s a chance Daniel E. Ho would never be an American. It was a personal touch working within the law that led to his citizenship and inspired his message to Stanford Law School’s graduating class on Saturday.

“The degree you are about to receive is a trust,” Ho, an associate law professor and the Robert E. Paradise Faculty Fellow for Excellence in Teaching and Research, told the Class of 2010. “We trust you to exercise good judgment. To wield discretion with compassion. To employ law in advance of justice. To question the question marks.”

Ho, who was awarded the 2010 John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching, had the experience to back up his remarks. He talked about his citizenship application that was jeopardized by his lawyer’s carelessness and saved by the compassionate discretion of an immigration examiner.

“The immigration attorney … switched all of my “yes’s” to “no’s” on the oath requirements,” he said. “As in: no, I don’t support the Constitution; no, I don’t support government; and no, I’m not willing to bear arms.”

No one noticed this until the time of his oral citizenship exam, and the examiner could have flatly rejected his application.

“After all, what do you do with an applicant for citizenship from a government that on paper he does not support?” he said.

But the problem was fixed when the examiner took a red felt pen out of her drawer and changed every mistaken “no” to a “yes,” he said.

The examiner “drew on compassion and common sense to reject a formal answer on paper,” he said. “Without that exercise of discretion in the administration of the law – the way law operates in real life – I might not be standing before you today.”

Larry Kramer, the Richard E. Lang Professor and Dean of the Law School, tipped his hat to the class of 2010.

“I thank you for the mature and responsible way in which you handled the challenges of these years,” he said.

The Class of 2010 nicknamed itself the “guinea pig” class because they experienced numerous structural changes at the law school, including the switch from semesters to quarters, a new grading system, and self-scheduled exams.

Kramer closed the ceremony with the traditional charge to the class.

“If history teaches anything, it is that great challenges bring great opportunities to make a difference that are indeed rare,” he said. “So take advantage of them. Be ambitious, and do something to make the world a better, safer place.”

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