Campus & Community

Boatright tells law grads adversity can lead to excellence

Law school alumnus and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Brian Boatright spoke at the law school Commencement May 19. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Brian Boatright shared a deeply personal and painful story with some 300 graduating University of Denver Sturm College of Law students at DU’s May 19 Commencement.

Life can deliver painful bouts of adversity and disappointment, he said, but overcoming those obstacles builds moral character and opens the path to excellence and fulfillment.

Boatright, a 1988 Denver Law alumnus, was appointed to the Supreme Court in November after serving as a district court judge since 1999. Prior to that, he worked for nine years prior as a deputy district attorney in Jefferson County.

He told the graduates that an intensely private series of events shaped his career and guided him. After he and his wife adopted their first child without trouble, they were eager to adopt another, he said. The process went well at first, but after taking home their second child, a girl, and naming her, they got the news that the birth mother wanted her returned.

Recounting the story overtook Boatright with emotion briefly, and he paused to wipe his eyes. Parents love their children from the moment they are delivered, he said. Losing a daughter they already had grown to love was deeply painful.

“The baby that we thought would be our daughter ceased to exist,” he said.

Despite the crushing turn, Boatright and his wife returned to the adoption agency shortly after to try again, and the result was a daughter who is now 12 years old and a treasured part of their family.

“Some things are meant to be,” he said. “Personally, that adversity led me to my calling. … It made me strive to fully serve the families in my court. That adversity allowed me to be the best judge I could be. … Without that adversity I would not have been appointed by Gov. (John) Hickenlooper to the Supreme Court.”

The lesson for new graduates, Boatright said, is to persevere and press on when things are difficult.

“Don’t fear adversity,” he said. “Surviving adversity builds character. … Your reputation is what you sell in this business, but your character is more important.”

In contrast to Boatright’s lessons, student speaker Aaron Neptune offered lighter moments. An experienced actor and writer in New York City before returning to law school, Neptune delivered a talk that was heavy on inside constitutional law jokes before reminding his classmates that they will now be subject to a string of lawyer jokes.

He had a piece of advice for those who tire of hearing their new profession become the butt of jokes.

“You mention that Ghandi was a lawyer,” he said. “That completely changes the context of the lawyer jokes. It turns lawyer jokes into Ghandi jokes, and there are no good Ghandi jokes.”

Neptune peppered his speech with references to the leather-clad heroes of the movie The Matrix and the superhero Spider-Man before urging his classmates to hold their heads high and be proud of their new profession.

“We are slow-motion, leather-clad, wall-walking, superhero Ghandis,” he said. “We have worked too hard for too long to put up with any more crap.”

Dean Martin Katz congratulated the newly minted lawyers and welcomed them as alumni.

“For over a century, the College of Law has educated lawyers who have gone on to rewarding careers,” he said. “We are proud of you and of the contributions you will make to the legal profession.”




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