In his annual welcome address to incoming Harvard Law School students, Dean John F. Manning ‘85 urged his audience of aspiring lawyers to take advantage of the skills they will acquire in the years ahead which, he said, would offer “endless opportunities for lives of meaning and of purpose.”
“Lawyers are everywhere and do everything,” said Manning, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law, to the exuberant crowd of more than 700 incoming J.D., LL.M and S.J.D students that filled Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre on Aug. 25. “It’s a profession of contribution and service, with lots of ways to contribute and lots of ways to serve. That’s because lawyers, at our best, bring skills that the world badly needs.”
Lawyers, he noted, are trained to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers. That is why, Manning argued, lawyers, and particularly Harvard Law School graduates, are represented in nearly every profession. “You will soon be joining an amazing community of alumni” who work and make contributions in nearly every field of human endeavor, he explained.
The ability to make profound contributions in a host of different areas is particularly important during today’s challenging times, Manning said. He urged the future lawyers to “keep faith,” especially in hard moments.
To make his point, he shared a piece of advice his mother gave him. “When things are bad it can feel infinite, like it’s never going to end,” he recalled her saying. “And when things are good, it can feel infinite, like they will never end. Neither is true. And she was right!”
The dean also noted that law school offers an unparalleled opportunity to engage with others, especially those who think differently, about challenging and important topics. Students should seek out, not shun, those occasions, he said. “You and your fellow students are exceptionally thoughtful, talented people with diverse perspectives and ideas,” he advised. “Please take advantage of that opportunity while you are here.”
As a first-generation student, Manning recalled that he was “pretty scared” when he was a new student at Harvard Law School, sitting in the same ornate venue being welcomed by his dean, forty years ago. “I felt pretty sure that I didn’t know what I was doing and that just about everyone else around me did.”
But with the help of his mother’s advice, he eventually realized that everyone feels “a little bit scared” when they start a new experience. And he urged his audience to remember that what they know on their last day of law school will be far more important than what they know on their first. “You’re here not because of what you know already, but to learn what you don’t already know.”
The dean closed his remarks by wishing the new students well as they start their journeys, saying that he will watch with pride as they become the next generation of great Harvard lawyers.
“Congratulations and welcome to HLS!”