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Congresswoman tells law grads that tough economy brings opportunity to help

Nearly 300 law graduates received their JDs at the Sturm College of Law's Commencement.

In a telling sign of the country’s struggling economy, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette didn’t sugarcoat the difficult job market facing University of Denver Sturm College of Law graduates but reminded them that tough times also afford opportunities.

Nearly 300 new DU law graduates crossed the stage May 21 inside Magness Arena, facing elevated unemployment nationwide. But DeGette drew from her own experiences as a law graduate to encourage the new lawyers to persevere.

Twenty-nine years ago, when she graduated from the New York University School of Law, DeGette (D-Denver) said she was selected as her class graduation speaker. In her speech, she recalled, she shocked many in the crowd.

“I stood up in front of everybody and said, ‘I don’t have a job,’” she recalled.

But the reason, she said, was because she wanted a job that made a difference to society, a position in public interest law. Finding that perfect job was tough then, and it’s tough today, she said.

But she told graduates there are still opportunities to make a difference and put their skills to work. Instead of taking a job in a metropolitan law firm, working as an associate and striving to make partner, DeGette suggested working for a legal aid organization or working in underserved rural areas.

“Think outside the box. Get in your car and go to Ouray or Grand Junction or Nebraska,” she said. “Find a small town that needs a lawyer … It’s the opportunity for you to make the difference of a generation.”

Chancellor Robert Coombe awards a degree to a law graduate on May 21.

Student speaker Melina Hernandez also reminded graduates to remember those who have helped along the way. Beginning on a humorous note, she embarked on a top-10 list of things she learned in law school.

Looking out at the graduates dressed in black robes and purple berets, she began, “Look at you. You’re all so smart. You look ridiculous.”

Among the things she learned, she said, “It’s really hard to say you’re in law school without sounding pretentious.”

But then, turning serious and choking with emotion, she talked of the sacrifices families make to help a student through the years of toil.

“They’ll go through criminal law flash cards with you long enough so that they could pass the final,” she said. “They will always be there for you.”

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