Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. on Friday offered some words of advice for the graduating class of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
“First, expect some adversity to come your way, you are going to get knocked down,” Verrilli, the commencement speaker, told the class. “It happens to everyone; it certainly happened to me and you could be pretty sure it is going to happen to you."
Verrilli, the U.S. Justice Department’s top Supreme Court advocate, addressed the graduating class for about ten minutes. There wasn’t any mention of the recent high-profile cases he’s argued—including the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage—or any of the criticism aimed at him. Verrilli was more philosophical in his talk.
“Ultimately, you define yourself through the choices you make each and every day,” he said at one point. “Each day’s choices shape what you become in your professional life.”
The law graduates will make any number of choices, Verrilli said. Choices about integrity. Having the courage to take on unpopular causes. Having the courage to say no. Being scrupulously candid with the courts. Treating colleagues—and, even more important, adversaries—with decency and respect. “You are leaders,” he said. “What you do matters.”
Verrilli, who joined the Justice Department from Jenner & Block in 2009, also talked about the ethical and public responsibility of the legal profession. In private practice, Verrilli maintained an active pro bono practice.
“By the way you chose to live your life,” Verrilli said in his address, “you can make clear that our legal system exists not to serve and protect the elites but to do justice for all.”
His final piece of advice came in the form of a paraphrased quote from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned in 1963. Verrilli told the students: “The time is always ripe to do right. It is a call to put yourself on the line for something that matters—not sometime later, now.”