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Professor Norman Ho’s Speech at the 2021 Commencement Ceremony

Norman Ho
Professor of Law, STL

I have always believed that graduation speeches and visits to the dentist have something in common – the shorter, the better.  So, I will keep my remarks short.


Congratulations on your graduation.  I also want to congratulate your family members and friends who, unfortunately due to pandemic controls, could not be here to celebrate with us.  You have all accomplished very much, and it has been my privilege to teach all of you at STL.


As you leave STL and enter the workforce, I wanted to leave you with 3 thoughts.  Specifically, these 3 thoughts have to do with your new identities:


  • First, your first identity – regardless of whether you become a practicing lawyer in a law firm, in a corporation, in government, or whether you become an academic, or whether you continue your studies, or whether you do something completely unrelated to law – remember that you are not just entering a profession, but you will have an identity as a member of a big, great, and historical community of people who care about the law and its place in society.  Law school is a form of professional education.  Law school is a professional school, like business school or medical school.  But want makes law school and the study of law different?  You are joining a 2000+ year-old community, a fraternity, a sorority of great thinkers and individuals and philosophers who spent their lives and who still do keep thinking about and debating the place of law in society, the relationship between law and morality and the like – people from thousands of years ago such as Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Shang Yang, to philosophers working today.  You are joining that deep and rich and uniquely independent academic and intellectual tradition that is law, legal philosophy, and legal history.  That is an awesome and spectacular thing and one you should cherish for the rest of your life.  And that is what makes you unique from graduates from other professional schools, such as business schools. 
  • Second, your second identity – please do not forget that being a lawyer is ultimately a customer service profession.  So, you will have an identity of a customer service provider.  It may be easy sometimes to feel powerful, since lawyers are respected in many societies and hold positions of power and influence in many jurisdictions.  It may be easy to let that power go to your head and feel self-important.  But remember, you are ultimately providing services to customers and to clients. 

    The associate in a clothing store is provides clothing customer service.  The waiter in a restaurant provides dining customer service.  The physician provides medical customer service.  Lawyers provide legal customer service.  You are different from all of these people just based on the kind of service you provide.  So, remember to stay humble and remember you are in the customer service business.  If you work at a law firm, your “customers” will mainly be your clients.  If you work in government, your customers will be the public.  If you become a law professor or legal academic, your customers will be your students and also others who work in your research field. 
  • Third and perhaps most important – even though today you are transitioning from STL student to STL alumnus, remember that you will always have this identity -i.e., the identity of being part of the STL community and STL family.  And so you will always have a home here at STL, no matter where you go and what you do.  And I hope you will come back and visit us. 

I hope you will remember these 3 identities.  Again, congratulations.