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The Hon. Catherine Curran O'Malley's Commencement Address

The Hon. Catherine Curran O’Malley, a Baltimore City District Court judge and the first lady of Maryland, served as the speaker for the 87th commencement of the University of Baltimore School of Law on May 19 at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

University of Baltimore President Robert L. Bogomolny and School of Law Dean Ronald Weich also offered remarks, as did 2014 School of Law Valedictorian Jordan M. Halle and alumnus James Denvil, J.D. `12. Students Darryl Tarver and Shannon Baker were recognized for academic excellence and service to the law school, and Professors Christopher Peters and Arnold Rochvarg and Adjunct Professor Lisa Sparks received faculty teaching awards. Receiving degrees were 290 J.D. students and 20 LL.M. students.

Judge O’Malley earned her J.D. from the UB School of Law in 1991. After serving as an assistant state’s attorney, O’Malley was appointed to the bench by Gov. Parris Glendening in 2001.

A longtime advocate for the rights of victims, Judge O’Malley—who is married to Gov. Martin O’Malley—has worked to end domestic violence locally, nationally and internationally. Since 2007 she has traveled to Russia four times to speak about the effects of domestic violence on women worldwide. Locally, she has worked with the House of Ruth Maryland, as well as with other institutions devoted to ending abusive behavior against women.

Judge O’Malley, the mother of four children, has also championed efforts to end bullying. In 2011, she joined with Facebook and Time Warner Inc. to promote National Bullying Prevention Month, and in 2012 she spoke at the U.S. Department of Education’s Bullying Prevention Summit. That year she also spoke about cyberbullying at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ annual meeting.

Judge O’Malley began her remarks by congratulating Kurt Schmoke, the former three-term mayor of Baltimore who was recently named the next president of the University of Baltimore. Schmoke has held several high-level positions at Howard University since 2003, when he became the dean of Howard’s School of Law.

Said Judge O’Malley: “I wish him the best of luck. His experience as dean of the Howard University law school, and of course as mayor of Baltimore, ensure [UB] will flourish under his leadership.”

Here are Judge O’Malley’s prepared remarks:

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that this is only the third commencement address I’ve given. The first one was for an eighth-grade class and the second was for high school seniors. I seemed to have skipped college altogether!

So welcome to the faculty of the University of Baltimore, family and friends of the soon-to-be-graduates and, of course, hello, Class of 2014!

And congratulations! You have worked so hard to be here today. And now you get to work even harder! Get ready for the bar exam! I’m proud to see the excited faces of your parents, families and friends. They are so proud of you. Your achievement, which we celebrate today, is a great source of light and it shines on your loved ones as well as on each of you.

I graduated from this great law school in May of 1991.

My husband, also a lawyer, graduated from the “other” law school a few blocks away.

Going to law school is not an easy task. The reading, the research, the writing, studying and reviewing: they seem endless. Many of you, like myself, have gone to law school at night while holding a full-time job during the day. It’s a double life, without much time to breathe. So now, graduates, I urge you: Take a breath! You made it and today we celebrate you!

I know from my experience as a night student just how difficult that can be. I learned early how to be a multitasker.

Being a day student is not walk in the park either. I’m sure all of you felt sometimes you couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or that the light at the end of the tunnel was a speeding train heading right for you! Another paper. Another exam early in the morning.

Well, you’re almost there. You did it, you poured it on and you made it!

And without a doubt, the support from your family and friends helped you get here today.

I know I couldn’t have done it without that support. In my last year before graduating I was pregnant, gave birth to my first daughter, worked full-time and attended school in the evenings. I could have never graduated without my friends and family pitching in and helping me.

[Pause]

First of all, I have to tell you how jealous I am of all the students, graduates and faculty here.

I love the new law center! I want to take a moment to thank President Bogolmony and wish him well in the future. His efforts in the creation of the new law center were so important.

I’ve been inside the new building a handful of times since it opened last year. Twelve stories high, 190,000 square feet of the most environmentally sustainable academic building in our nation. It’s fantastic!

There is a lot of history to this wonderful school. Today you join an alumni body of around 13,000 graduates.

My favorite of those UB graduates is my father, former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. He gave the commencement address at my graduation.

So now, I want to avoid giving your standard commencement address: enthuse, advise, admonish, provide cautionary tales.

But as a UB Law grad myself, as a mother, a daughter and a wife, I find myself excited for you in all of those usual clichéd ways.

I grew up in Baltimore City. And I was raised by two of the most decent and loving parents a child could ask for. And they taught me many lessons that have stayed close to me my entire life.

My father is the most ethical, decent, honest, hardworking lawyer in the world.

And that’s just my unbiased opinion.

He is the lawyer that I always strive to be.

I remember many nights growing up in Baltimore, watching him prepare his cases in our dining room.

When I was in middle school, I would go to court with him sometimes to watch. At first I thought a courtroom was boring. But by the time I got to law school, and then as a newly admitted member of the Maryland State Bar, I watched my father argue and win two important criminal cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. And by then the courtroom for me had changed--it had become a fascinating place.

My father’s advice to me and my classmates graduating from this law school in 1991 was basic: know your case!

Never go to court unprepared. Always treat your opposing counsel with respect. My father reminded us then how important lawyers have been in making the laws of our courts fair, equal and just.

In the commencement speech he gave in 1991, he talked about how lawyers can change the world for good.

Just two days ago we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that prohibited Southern states from segregating schools by race.

This case, while addressing educational inequalities that resulted from segregation, also sparked a series of citizen actions--sit-ins and protests--that ultimately led to the passage of the civil rights legislation throughout our country in the 1960s.        

That case, as we know, was argued by another Baltimore lawyer, Thurgood Marshall. After the Brown decision, he was ultimately appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Lawyer Marshall had been, for many years before the Brown decision, fighting against laws and policies that discriminated against African-Americans.

As a younger man he was rejected from the University of Maryland law school due to its racial acceptance policies.

In 1933 he decided to challenge that policy in the Maryland court system.

Mr. Marshall represented Donald Gaines Murray, who had also been rejected from the law school solely due to his race.

On behalf of his client, Marshall argued that this policy violated the “separate but equal” principle. The white law schools were far superior to the black law schools and everyone knew it.

The Baltimore City court found in favor of Murray. The university filed an appeal, but the Court of Appeals also agreed with Mr. Murray.          

So this is a powerful example of what one lawyer can do, not only to change the life of one client, but to change the lives of so many in our nation.

I see the District Court, where I work, as the “face of the court,” where the majority of smaller cases are tried.

You might do well to remember that although many of your cases might be more mundane, smaller in scope, they are just as real as landmark legal cases, just as important to the client involved, who will always remember that day and that trial.

For that person, it might be a turning point, a breakthrough or a turning of the page, even if, for you, it’s just another case, one of dozens, hundreds.

So it is important and serious, what you will go on to do. Every single case.

Your law degree will open up so many opportunities for you. And not only opportunities for you personally, but also for your community.

You may choose a career in public service or you may do great things in the private sector. As you ascend and aspire to leadership in whatever area of the law you choose, as you make choices in your own communities and households, and in the world, you face a timeless human question.

It is a question for the most fortunate and the least fortunate, for the privileged and the poor.

The question is always the same: Will your world change you, or will you change your world?

By receiving your law degree, you have made a choice to improve your world not just for yourself but for your family and community.

Don’t let unexpected setbacks change your vision and dreams. Make them into memorable chances to change and challenge yourself.

Sometimes failing at a goal may actually be an opportunity for something else unexpected. Always stay optimistic.

So with my last few words, I’d like to end with a favorite quote of mine by Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president:

It is not the critic who counts.

It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled.

Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.

It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end triumph of great achievement.

And who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

So in that arena, try not to be the critic or cold or timid. Be the strong fighter, fighting for your client and for yourself and for a more just and equal world.

And once again, congratulations graduates!