President Edington Remarks, 2023 Law School Pinning Ceremony

President Edington Remarks, 2023 Law School Pinning Ceremony

President Edington Remarks, 2023 Law School Pinning Ceremony

Law School Pinning Ceremony 2023

Prepared Remarks

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Good evening. I am Dr. Maurice Edington, president of the University of the District of Columbia.

I am thrilled to be here with you to celebrate this most auspicious occasion. I would like to recognize the UDC Board of Trustees, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Lawrence Potter and other members of the Executive Cabinet, Dean Johnson, UDC Law School faculty and staff, and members of the D.C. School of Law Foundation.

I am especially honored to officially welcome the classes of 2026 and 2027, as well as their families, to Firebird Nation.

As we assemble here tonight, I invite you to take a moment to consider what brought you to the hall where you now sit. In other words: What is your “why”?

Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of attending law school. Maybe you’re in search of a career full of substance and meaning. Or, quite possibly, you just really loved staying up sleep-deprived into the wee hours, studying for the LSAT.

Though each of you may be here for different reasons, each of you has a reason. Tonight, I implore you to clarify and commit to it.

I’ll take a few minutes to share some details of my personal journey and how I found my why.

I am a trained scientist with a Ph.D. in physical chemistry whose research specialty is ultrafast laser spectroscopy. Believe it or not, law school isn’t exactly a part of that resume, and yet I know what it feels like to enter a new personal chapter in higher education, imbued with excitement about the road ahead.

When I arrived at Fisk University on a Greyhound bus a few decades ago, I had nothing with me but a duffel bag, $400 in my pocket, and an insatiable hunger to learn.

As a child, graduating high school was considered a major accomplishment in my home. My family was poor, living in an urban neighborhood in California in the 1980s that was riddled with drugs and violence. Both of my parents struggled with substance abuse.

I didn’t see a lot of examples of professional success at that time, and I didn’t think I’d make it to my 50s, much less become the president of a university, but I had support. When my parents could not take care of me and my two brothers, my grandparents stepped in and did their best to shield us from the crack epidemic tearing through our community.

In addition to that second home, I had a third: the library. I visited the library every other day as a child, checking out books on math, science, and other topics that I just couldn’t get enough of. I read 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and that thirst for learning propelled me through high school and eventually to the HBCU that I credit with saving my life.

Fisk University, a historically black liberal arts college in Nashville, Tenn., was where I came alive. As I walked its halls, I became aware that there was an entire world out there, far beyond my California neighborhood—a world full of opportunities I could reach right out and grab.

At Fisk, I set big goals for myself, and though I didn’t yet dream of leading a university, or even a classroom of students, I set a big goal that I continue to work toward today: to be the best I can be.

I couldn’t have reached those goals, or remained a student at Fisk, without the support of one extraordinarily caring and compassionate professor.

When that Greyhound bus pulled up to the Fisk campus, you might say I was a touch naïve. Though my brain was filled with the ideas of the great thinkers and scientists I’d read about through high school, my pockets were relatively empty. I had no plan of how I would pay for school once I’d run out of money, but I desperately wanted to stay.

In stepped chemistry Professor Princilla Evans. We formed a connection from day one at Fisk, and when I ran out of money during my first semester, she didn’t hesitate to help me secure a scholarship. It’s because of her assistance and her belief in me that I was able to remain at the university and attain the education I would need to ultimately pursue a Ph.D.

Today, Professor Evans remains my mentor. She is my role model, someone who has demonstrated excellence in teaching and compassion for students.

That type of dedication led me to my own personal “why”—the commitment to service through education.

I’ve always had in my heart a desire to serve others. At Fisk, I realized I could respond to that calling through teaching and helping students access opportunities. I could give back by assisting others as my predecessors had helped me. Now, whether I’m serving as a classroom professor, college dean, or university president, I return daily to that motivating force: my commitment to serving through education.

So, I ask you again to consider this question: What is your “why”?

You worked with diligence and tenacity during your undergraduate studies. You spent hours prepping for your LSAT. You chose UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law and submitted test scores, personal statements and letters of recommendation, and you were accepted.

Now, you are here, and it’s time to celebrate your past achievements and look ahead to what’s next.

I’d be the first to tell you I’m a future-minded person, always trying to take each step toward my next big goal.

What are your big goals? Do you want to employ the courtroom to fight for social justice? Offer pro bono legal services to help community members who can’t afford them? Shape public policy to achieve more equitable outcomes?

The David A. Clarke School of Law is the ideal place to identify, work toward and achieve those dreams. Access, opportunity, and social justice are baked into its mission—principles that motivate some 45,000 hours of service per year provided to community members right here in our nation’s capital. Our law school’s focus on practical training, which compels each student to provide hundreds of hours of free legal services and gain hands-on experience, helped deem it number six in the nation last year for clinical training. This year, it was ranked number five in the U.S. for sending its graduates to public interest and government jobs, and its location in Washington, D.C., affords students practically endless opportunities to engage with policymakers and become agents of change. The University of the District of Columbia—from its workforce training programs and its community college to its undergraduate and graduate programs—shares the law school’s ideals of access, opportunity, and social justice. While you may be students of UDC Law, always remember that you are also vital members of the larger UDC community, and once a Firebird, always a Firebird.

I am personally committed to your success. You have my unwavering support as you begin this journey, and you will have my continued support as you move toward your degree, licensure, and ultimately, as you become attorneys who are tireless advocates for social justice.

So, take a moment to look around you. UDC is your family. UDC is your new home, and UDC is the place where you will determine and commit to your “why.”

Thank you, and congratulations.

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