donald-l-graham_web.jpgThe rigors of an education, both at the college and graduate level, has and will continue to defeat the spirit of some of the brightest and most intelligent students. Many who you know personally lacked the resolve, the dedication and the discipline required to complete the academic program. Hard, productive and thoughtful work is always necessary and serves as the foundation for the forthcoming very practical guidance.

I would like to discuss six key tenets.

The first and quite important area is commitment to the community in which you live. It is your responsibility, indeed, your duty to assist others who are not as fortunate or, as I like to say, blessed as you. There are those just beyond the parameters of this Civic Center, even near your homes, who are hungry, tired, disillusioned, on drugs, suffering economic problems or barely making it through the day.

But for the grace of God go each and everyone present.

I challenge you to use your education to make a difference in the lives of all people, not just a few you see daily. Become involved in mentoring programs. Our youth really need your help. None of us are free and none of us will prosper, until all of us have the opportunity to be free and prosperous.

Secondly, have a productive family life. Give the appropriate time to your spouses, children, parents and friends. Be careful not to be myopic to the exclusion of those who love you. Constantly work on your relationships with others. Remember, these are the people who will be with you and for you everyday. But, most importantly, they will be here for you tomorrow as your career develops.

When times are difficult — and, believe me, there will be challenges, whether they relate to work, medical issues or perhaps some inconceivable tragedy – it will be your family and friends who provide the support to get you through these trials and tribulations.

Third, do not take yourselves too seriously. Do not elevate yourself above your peers and others. Let your hard work and accomplishments speak for you. People will notice you based upon your good deeds. Be positive. Be approachable. Do not elevate yourself above the clouds and be unaware of what is happening at ground level.

Fourth, be aware of special and unique opportunities. Be on the look out for those special defining moments in life and be prepared to take advantage of them. Opportunities arise suddenly and without notice.

I had no particular desire to be a judge some 20 years ago. I was doing what I always dreamed of, practicing law as a trial lawyer. I had a wonderful practice, traveling all over the county helping people against all odds in federal and state courts.

I became a lawyer as a result of my childhood experiences growing up in the deep South in a totally segregated society. The words of W.E.B. Dubois, the great intellectual leader and educator, resonated profoundly as I grew up. He taught that lawyers and people, in general, needed to be social engineers. A social engineer, as he said it, “is a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer or person who understands the Constitution of the United States and knows how to explore its uses, in solving the problems and bettering the condition of underprivileged citizens.”

When I was encouraged to apply for a Federal judgeship, I thought about the call of W.E.B. Dubois. I thought if I could do it as a student at West Virginia State University, I could do it as a law student at Ohio State University. If I could do it as a lawyer, I surely could do it as a judge. I needed to take advantage of this special and unique opportunity.

The point is if I can accomplish my dreams and goals starting at West Virginia State University, so can each and every one of you.

Fifth, be careful of the pecuniary gain trap. It is very enticing. I know you have looked at the Porsche 911, the Mercedes Benz and thought how good you would look driving up to your large split-level home in your Armani or Ann Taylor suit. But, keep in mind, money is not everything. You can get mixed signals in a capitalistic society.

As you mature professionally, you will soon realize that good health and happiness are much more important. Be willing to sacrifice for your happiness and peace of mind, even in the face of monetary gain.

Sixth, remain true to your faith. None of us can be successful based exclusively on our individual efforts. We need help. Develop your faith and work on it daily. Living in today’s society is challenging, at best. Your faith will carry you through many obstacles and challenges.

From faith emanates the desire to succeed and to overcome adversity without hesitation or reservation.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a recent commencement  address given by U.S. District Judge Donald L. Graham at his alma mater, West Virginia State University.