Frank N. Darras’ Commencement Speech –WSU College of Law
Thank you Dean Jones, Honored Faculty and Guests, Let me add my own warm welcome to the family, friends and my congratulations to the graduates of the great class of 2009.
I listened as Dean Mary Ann went through my successes and I flashed back 24 years ago to my own graduation as a Western State student and I promise, I wasn’t on anyone’s short list to become one of the top 500 lawyers in America. I wasn’t on anyone’s Super Lawyer watch list. I was on the “You got to be kidding me” list. Because unlike many of you, when I applied to Western State, I’d been away from college 7 years. My LSAT scores “not so much” and my grade point average in college “middle of the pack” but I had a vision. Granted it took some time to get on top of it, but I had a vision. I was going to law school. It did not matter that I was older. Didn’t matter I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the in the room, didn’t matter that I needed to work fulltime while attending Western State. All I needed was an interview, one shot-one chance-to show that admissions director the passion in my belly, the fire in my eyes.
I remember it like yesterday.
Frank, this is a rigorous academic curriculum aw Frank, it’s be a long while since you competed in the classroom, yeah details .
But for some wonderful reason that wonderful admissions director heard me and my solemn pledge, I looked him dead in the eyes and pledged I would work harder, longer, with more heart and determination than anyone he had interviewed. You, You give me the chance “you open this door for me and I promise you one day I will make a difference in the LAW. Once day, you’ll be proud to call me a Western State Alum.
It was a miracle, a flat out miracle that man went way out on an academic limb and swung open the door of opportunity. He didn’t owe me anything. I wasn’t anybody special….but he listened.
I was a no name kid from the mid-west. I didn’t have any stature of glamour attached to my last name. No, I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks to parents I thought were pretty smart. My dad got his GED in the Marines, my mom graduated on time from high school.
That man, that day “that interview” believed in ME, took a chance on me, said I was genuine and authentic…..he saw fire in me.
So I know what it means to struggle, to persevere, to worry and to wonder.
I’ve sat in your seat; I felt the exuberance and the pride you’re feeling. I struggled with what you are struggling with. Right now, how am I going to get through this, pass the bar, get a job and really make a difference in the law?
I had a vision, I had a dream, ONE DAY I would fight the good fight, help the sick, enable the disabled and be a difference maker to the downtrodden and the disadvantaged. Use the miracle gift I got at western state, to know down the billion dollar giants of the disability insurance world -because that is where I came from.
Big versus little, weak versus strong, outmanned and outnumbered with no chance of winning; isn’t that what we learned at Western State? It’s not where you started; it’s what good you have done with your gifts. It’s about bettering yourself, rising beyond where you began. I used to tell everyone who met me “I am going to build the largest disability practice in America.” They looked at me like I landed from another planet. No! I mean it; when I am done every farm house, cul-de-sac and rural town in America will know my name means real protection for the disabled. Help everybody everywhere and do it with kindness, compassion, and integrity-but along the way you need some heroes to look up to, don’t we? Mine was General Custer. Some of you are laughing, I can hear you! Frank, Custer got massacred, yeah, yeah…details, details. I remember the last words he said to his troops as they marched into battle “We got them surrounded.”, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became The Governator, remember his line “I’ll be back.”? The law is like that, you have your whole life to earn your reputation. What will you be remembered for? Who will you stand up for? How hard, how long will you fight for what is good?
I have stood for the disabled and returned more than ½ billion dollars to the less fortunate. I’ve represented the world’s greatest athletes, movie stars, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, and the hardworking men and women I grew up alongside, the blue collar worker. It’s been my great privilege to serve, and boy am I grateful! Do you feel the pride in my words? Do you see it in my face when I say Western State changed my life? That admission director and my law degree have brought righteousness and rained justice across every state in America. Restored honor and dignity and rebuilt broken lives, and remember where you started. You’re smarter than me, you came with more gifts, you’re better educated, you’ve got your own vision, and you’re ready to drive your own dream.
But how do we get from here to there? Well that’s my job today, isn’t it? “Be enlightening” Frank, outline their roadmap for success. “Be funny” my kids said, “don’t be a loser.” Dean Jones said hey tick tock, make it quick. I told her I’ll be brief, however long that takes. And I know what you parents are thinking; we paid a boatload for our kid to come here. I may be your last hope you’ll get something for your money. And for the class of 2009 I am the last obstacle between your JD and lunch so let’s get to it.
To my fellow alums:
First, enjoy every second of this grand day, “you’ve earned it.” Your journey from law school application to commencement has taken many twists and turns. It’s been a journey marked by challenges met and results today in a dream achieved, so pat yourself on the back. Smile “deep on the inside” and grin wide on the outside. Listen close and remember fondly as your family and friends tell you how proud they are of you, “they mean it.” And keep smiling when your party today is over, because the light of your life in the law has just begun to flicker.
Second, thank those who have brought you here. Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, spouses and significant others, extended family and dear friends who helped you set your moral compass with life lessons on love, honor, and integrity. They shaped your character, they held you accountable, and they taught you right from wrong, respect and compassion. These are the great heroes of your life, so now, right now, right this minute stand up and give them your loudest applause. Be thankful to those friends and those who’ve passed or couldn’t be with us for guiding you, counseling and encouraging you through the seasons of your life. Be thankful to your wonderful faculty, staff, and administration for your rich legal education chocked full of “whereas and heretofores.” Take a moment to really look at your faculty up here; they are beaming with pride because you’re now mirror images of each other. What a contrast to that first time you were called on in torts, that gripping, paralyzing fear that stole your Adam’s apple. Ha, they don’t look so scary now, do they? They were your mentors and your models, some you’ll remember fondly, others you’ll just remember.
Great class of 2009, raise your hand if you’re the first lawyer in your family to graduate from law school. Way to go mom and dad. All right, raise your hand if you have a brother or sister who is also a lawyer or in law school. Mom and dad, didn’t learn your lesson the first time?
Okay, we know why we are here, we’ve thanked everybody for coming, what else? Raise your hand if you’re taking the California Bar Exam. Frank, “I’m freaking out” the Bar Exam is in 88 days! Any sage advice? Sure, it’s time to put it all together, because those three days at the end of July are going to be the “survival of the fittest”, our California bar examiners way of cutting out the weak and burying the weary. We know that going in, so remember it’s a marathon not a sprint. We have to get organized, energized, and then we visualize “one time-one time-one time.” We are taking it one time; put your finger up with me one time. 2009, you’re going to be just fine. One time, one time for the class of 2009. Think of Rocky Balboa climbing those steps in Philadelphia, Iwo Jima planting that flag. We’re marching up that Bar Exam hill, we’re taking on all takers, and we are getting to the top. “Close your eyes”, see your name in the Daily Journal.
Patience, persistence, and perseverance to plan our work and work our plan and execute; its how you learned at Western State, it’s no different than the way you have been taught. This July, great class of 2009, one time period, exclamation point, we’re going to blow away the pass rate. Tomorrow, sit down with your loved ones and plan your time, because you’re MIA for the next ten weeks. “Be kind to yourself”, stay healthy, we are not getting sick. Illness can find a different home. We are going to be physically, mentally, and spiritually on task and ready to execute. Be confident, you’ve been richly trained. Be comforted, all of us in this room are your 3G network, see the Verizon commercial. Know going in, in your heart of hearts each and every one of us will be right there with you, encouraging, cheering from the sidelines providing all the “emotional penicillin” so you can be all you can be for three strong days. “One -time.”
Alright, “after the Bar Exam” want some “good advice”? Spend time with your family; nourish them with your time and your presence. Restore, rebuild, and put your priorities back in order, family first. Oh, you’ll get work, even in this economy and you will be pressed to work longer, bill a few more hours. But each one of you is also a son or daughter, and those wonderful parents of yours could sure use a visit. Your kids, your bride, tour significant others deserve real time without cell phones or email. Balance your work and family, take your kids to school one morning a week or you’ll be the dork of the carpool line. Some employers respect family, work for them, because your kids are only young once. I promise at the end of your legal career it won’t be that 17 hour day you billed when you were 28, it will be that sweet morning you worked in their classroom that fills your heart and puts wind in your sails. Invest in your family, do it early and often, and remember, if your family loves you the rest of “life” falls into place.
Finally, let’s talk about finding your passion. That’s easy advice; listen to your heart, it’s the best career counselor there is. Whether it’s litigation, aviation, or meditation follow the “grain in your own wood.” Draw confidence from your education, draw courage from your morals, draw inspiration from your heroes. Reach real high! Dream real big, because you cannot be what you cannot see. Remember bringing joy, optimism, and passion to your work is not what you get when you get to the top, it’s “how you get to the top.” And you’re going to see the same people on the way up as you do on the way down, so be kind, tell the truth, keep your word, feel your feelings, be generous, compassionate, and sprinkle a little humility on your daily work. Steep honor, integrity, and goodwill into your law practice, your home, and your world. Exceed your peers’ expectations and your own! Be faithful to those you work with and loyal to those you love. Whatever you do ion the law and in your life, do it with enthusiasm. Life is one great big magnificent canvass, so let’s throw all the paint we can on it. I mean it; let’s go out on a limb. Isn’t that where the fruit is? Life at its edges is so much more interesting than the ho-hum in the middle, so “fly high.” But it will take guts. Hey it takes guts to go out and tear it up on the dance floor, it takes guts to sing real loud in church, and it takes guts to tackle the unpopular cases. But somebody’s got to love them and but for “the grace of God” you could be sitting on the other side of that table, so find your passion. Do what you love and you too will make a difference in the law.
Last, always, always remember where you came from, because you have had your struggled and you’ve triumphed. You’ve manned our legal clinics, raised our academic standards, blown away the moot court competitions across the country, and you’re going to blow away the pass rate this July.
Great class of 2009, you have shined and done more good than I have time to acknowledge. You have made many sacrifices, but you are ready to go, so go. As part of a storied tradition of excellence spanning more than 40 years here at Western State, more than 9000 alumni and counting, and you add to that mighty ensemble of judges, commissioners, and magistrates, Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, Top 500 Lawyers in America, 10 Million Dollar a Year Rainmakers, former California State Bar President, Top Female Lawyers in California. We are District Attorneys, public defenders, and professors, and we are gaining in our diversity, gaining in our prominence, and gaining in our national recognition.
Great class of 2009 “it is your time to shine”; you’ve been masterfully trained, taught by an esteemed faculty and served by the most caring administrative staff on the planet. It is time for you to show the world “where you came from.” Do good and honest work with enthusiasm and passion. Represent the right people for the right reason with integrity. Be generous to your peers and your family with your time, talent, and treasures.
Great class of 2009, you go out and show the world you’re building a future “we can all be proud of.” And thank you, each of you, for letting me be a part of this magnificent day. And thank you Western State for changing my life and the lives of the disabled across America. Go out and make a difference in the law!