Valedictorian Ryanne Bush Dent Addresses the May 2013 Graduates

Ryanne Bush Dent

Ryanne Bush Dent

Thank you Dean Corkery.

Hello everyone.  Before we move forward, I’d like to take everyone back to the start of law school. Remember when you didn’t know what an “1L,” was; when briefing cases was impossible, when you thought a “brief” meant something was short, and you had no idea that a cause could be anything but “proximate.”  We’ve all come a long way since then, but I know that we could not have done it without support.  So I want to take this time, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to thank all of our family and friends that gave us their support, encouragement, and tolerated us before and during law school.  We have each been shaped by the people around us and we would not be the people we are today without you, so thank you.

Like many of you, before going to law school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that I wanted to work with people and to feel like I was making a contribution to society.  I came across a quote before starting at John Marshall by the photographer Dewitt Jones that kept me motivated.  He said:  “Celebrate what’s right in the world.  Strive to be the best for the world.”

As we complete our graduation today, we are all better equipped to do something FOR the world.  I sincerely believe that one of the most important things for the world is to be an advocate.  As an advocate, we must fight passionately for our client, but the best way to do that is to open people’s eyes to the opposing side.  People get so wrapped up in their own world, with their own problems and perspectives that they often have difficulty seeing and understanding someone else’s point of view.

But the legal profession teaches us that there is always a “versus”—there is always a conflict between two different sides.  We are all better equipped after law school to not only recognize the other side, but to explain and persuade the opposing side.  We can’t know every reason why the other side has a specific viewpoint, but we can listen and try to understand them so that we can better appreciate their motivations in order to advocate for our clients.  After all, we can’t be effective advocates without understanding both sides of the argument.

But we also have to remember that the people we deal with in the legal profession are just that—people.  People make mistakes and have biases, but above all, they deserve the respect that all humans deserve.  So practice law civilly, remembering that each person you encounter, whether they share your view or not, deserves respect.

Each of us makes an impact on every person we encounter.  I believe if you can do something great, people will notice and the world will be better for it.  So I urge our entire class to do something with your law degree that you will be proud of, that you can share with enthusiasm to  your family and friends, with a smile.   If we can do that, then surely we are striving to be the best for the world.

Thank you and good luck!