In commencement speech, Barbera emphasizes power of words

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Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera gives the commencement address Monday.

In her keynote address at the law school’s 90th commencement ceremony, Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera encouraged the graduates to make sure their words are clear and meaningful.

“As you become more and more fluent in the language of law, I urge you to remember that what you say and write matters, each and every time,” Judge Barbera told the 225-strong Class of 2017 on Monday at The Lyric. “As lawyers, we are not poets or playwrights, yet we, too, must recognize the art of language, both its subtlety and imprecision, for words are both our most powerful tools and our greatest challenges.”

Barbera emphasized that the profession of law is defined by the use of language: “[W]e live in a democracy based upon the rule of law – a common agreement that the laws of our land govern each of us equally, that no man or woman is above the law, and that no man or woman is the law.”

She paused.

“What an extraordinary thing it is to live in a society that looks to words, rather than to swords, for the rules by which we live,” Barbera said. “We tend to take that for granted until we look back in history, and in the present, beyond our borders and, too often, even within our borders, to know that the rule of law is not something we may take for granted if we are to preserve it.”

Barbera urged the graduates to do pro bono work and to help those “who do not yet stand in the full sunshine of equality under the law, who struggle to gain access to justice.”

“When we engage in that work – when we put to such use the language of the law – we pay it forward, not simply to the individual, family or group we help, but also to the greater community,” she said. “When we engage in some form of pro bono work, we make the investment that strengthens the rule of law for all of us.”

Judge Barbera recalled the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, given to mark the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863:

“President Lincoln said that it is not for those who died in the battle, who gave ‘full measure,’ but rather ‘for us the living’ to ‘be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us’: to ‘resolve … that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’”

In closing, Judge Barbera said: “May you be remembered for having used the words of our profession to strengthen the rule of law, so that, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so beautifully used his words to remind us, the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.”

Access a recording of the commencement ceremony.

Read the commencement brochure.

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