The Class of 2020 chose Professor David B. Wilkins ’80 to receive the Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence.
In his address during Thursday’s virtual commencement ceremony, Wilkins told the graduating class: “You have quite simply given me the greatest honor that any teacher can ever receive. Since I was blessed to have won this award in 1998, it has remained my proudest professional achievement. But to win it this year, from this class, under these circumstances, is particularly meaningful in light of everything that you have been through and everything, quite frankly, that is yet to come. My heart breaks for the losses you’ve already incurred and the challenges that so many of you are likely to face in the future.
“But with great challenge also comes great opportunity and the potential to make great change,” Wilkins continued. “In our social distance, we understand more than ever the importance of social connection and building a better society. And to build that society, in a world that, for better and for worse, is more global, more interconnected, more interdependent than ever before, will require even more great lawyers than ever before.”
Wilkins, who is vice dean for global initiatives on the legal profession and faculty director of the Center on the Legal Profession, told the graduating class: “We need lawyers of creativity, of passion, of intelligence, and of heart. And we need them in every corner of the world. I’ve been studying lawyers all my life, and I can assure you that there has never been a graduating class from Harvard Law School that is better prepared than you to face these challenges.”
Introducing Wilkins, Class Marshal Camille Youngblood ’20 noted the role he had played for so many HLS students: “Professor Wilkins remained consistent, approachable and caring. He is deeply admired and continues to light the path forward in both the legal profession and life.” She concluded, “Thank you for your unconditional empathy, unparalleled mentorship and tremendous impact on our HLS experience.”
In his writing and scholarly projects, Wilkins has focused extensively on the legal profession and lawyers, including recent studies of the impact of globalization on the market for legal services in rapidly developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and a series of career studies looking at, among other things, differences in the experiences of male and female graduates and the careers of lawyers who do not practice law. He has also studied the experiences of black lawyers in corporate law practice.
Wilkins ended his talk with some words of advice about finding happiness in the profession he knows so well: “Sadly there is no such thing as work-life balance. But what there is, and what you deserve, is work-life integration, to make who you are consistent and resonate with what you do. So, look for work that engages your whole self, and then throw your whole self into it. If you do, I have no doubt of the amazing things that you will achieve for yourselves and for our world.”
The Sacks-Freund Award, which is given to a faculty member each year for teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns and general contributions to student life at the law school, was established in 1992 and is named in honor of the late Harvard Law School Professors Albert Sacks ’48 and Paul Freund S.J.D. ’32. Recent recipients include Richard Lazarus ’79, Carol Steiker ’86, Mark Wu, Jeannie Suk Gersen ’02, Jon Hanson, Tyler Giannini and Benjamin Sachs.