Senior adviser in the Obama Administration and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power ’99 was the 2010 Class Day speaker at HLS. Power addressed a law school audience in Holmes Field on May 26, the day before Commencement, urging graduates to make the most of their law school degrees and of every moment of their lives.
Power reminded students of the potential of the law and of their legal training: “It is in your hands to decide whether law will be enforced, whether law will be just, whether law will be used to slow or speed the spread of liberty and equality,” she said. “It’s on you, graduates, to decide whether law will do what it has done so often—as the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney puts it, make ‘hope and history rhyme.’”
But she also had some more personal advice for them based on her experience as a fellow over-achiever: “Remember that this is the only life you have, and you don’t get a do-over. Argue well and fair, never forget the majesty of law and the privilege of being anointed its guardian. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Listen to your gut and know that a small contribution from you can make a giant difference to those who can never get here.” Finally, she urged her audience “to be present, and savor every single one of these oh so precious good ol’ days. Starting with today.”
Power said she had fond memories of HLS, and she praised the leadership of Martha Minow, her friend and former teacher. “I can say from experience that when you look into Dean Minow’s eyes, the reflection you see of yourself is the person you hope you can become.”
She also spoke affectionately of another law school connection; Power is married to Cass Sunstein ’78, who joined the HLS faculty in 2008 and is now administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Office of Management and Budget. Sunstein was in the audience, as was Power’s mother.
An expert on human rights and foreign policy, Power is currently serving as special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights at the National Security Council. She is also the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy and founder of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Her writings include the 2008 book “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World,” about the slain U.N. diplomat; and “’A Problem from Hell’”: America and the Age of Genocide, which received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Council on Foreign Relations prize. A journalist before law school, Power covered the wars in the former Yugoslavia. After becoming a professor at the Kennedy School, Power continued to report from such places as Burundi, East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
Power was a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, and after the election, she was a member of the transition team looking at how the new administration should approach national security, defense, and state department issues.