Patricia Leary’s Address at the 50th Year Celebration

April 14, 2016

Whittier Law School Professor Patricia Lear

50 years.

Half a century.

18,250 days.

No matter how you say it, it sounds like a long time.

Twice as long as many of you have been alive.

I have loved this law school and have been part of it for nearly half of its life, and more than a third of my own.

Reflecting on this has caused me to think a lot about something that might sound strange, considering that we are here to celebrate the 50th birthday of an institution. I have been thinking about impermanence, and its converse, which is not permanence, but persistence.

The impermanence of physical structures, as we reluctantly said goodbye to our leaky, creaky, rambling Tudor building in Hancock Park in Los Angeles, with its rose garden and valet parking, and said hello to this spacious and open campus.

The impermanence of human lives. John Fitzrandolph, Cindy Raisch, Gail Sonnenberg, Tom Diamond. The impermanence of human presence in one place. Bill Phelps, Cindy Carson, Hal Quadres, Dorothy Williams, Sue McGuigan. And soon – Meg Gale, Calvin Peeler, Bill Patton, Julie Manasfi, Marty Pritikin, and Deborah Forman.

The persistence of the effect that lives have on other lives.

The impermanence of the status of being a law student. Our beloved students, who persistently arrive on our shore every year like waves and fill our hearts and minds and these buildings, and then flow away from us, from the impermanent status of law student to the persistence of being a lifelong student of the law.

The impermanence of the spoken word. So much of what happens here happens through the spoken word. Sometimes as I walk down the hall past classroom after classroom I think about the millions of words that have been and are being spoken in them. And there are the words spoken by students in appellate advocacy, in performances of the Vagina Monologues, words called out in friendship and support for one another.

Sometimes people have come onto our campus and have inspired us with their words.

United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard.

The Reverend Al Lawson, who marched with Dr. King.

Farmworker activist Delores Huerta, who marched with Cesar Chavez.

Animal rights activist Marti Kiehl.

Roe vs. Wade lawyer Sara Weddington.

Fred Korematsu, who challenged the internment of Japanese Americans, and about whom every law student now reads.

Feminist foremother Eleanor Smeal, founder of the National Organization for Women.

Consumer activist Ralph Nader.

Founder of Homeboy Industries, Father Gregory Boyle, whose life and whose work with gang members are testaments to the transformative power of love.

The spoken word may feel impermanent. It leaves the speaker on the breath and vanishes into the air. But there is the persistence of the power of the spoken word to transform the thoughts and stir the soul of the listener.

The impermanence of the law itself, which changes constantly and not always in the same direction.

These 50 years have seen the emergence, and the erosion, of affirmative action.

The recognition, and retrenchment, of a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The exoneration by DNA evidence of wrongfully convicted criminal defendants.

The mass incarcerations of the War on Drugs. The decriminalization of marijuana.

These 50 years have seen the first black Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

The first woman Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

The first Latina Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

The first black President of the United States.

Marriage equality as the law of the land.

We have seen change.

And the constant companion of change – the insistent persistence of resistance to injustice.

And finally, the persistence of memory, which defies the impermanence of that which is remembered.

And, always, not just the persistence, but the permanence of the only thing that really matters – and that is love, for one another, for the law, and for this place, where our love for the law and for one another is our reason for being.