Commencement, Job Searches, Law Schools

Emory Law Follow-Up: In Defense of Professor Stadler

Professor Sara Stadler

Yesterday I wrote about the Emory Law School commencement address delivered by Professor Sara Stadler. In it, she told graduating law student that their own “sense of entitlement” was standing in the way of their happiness.

I’ve got nothing against Professor Stadler or Emory Law, but I personally thought this was the wrong note to strike at a commencement address — and so did some Emory Law students, who contacted us about this in the first place.

But other Emory Law students disagreed. And after yesterday’s post went up, some students emailed Above the Law to express support for Professor Stadler and her message. They stated that she is an excellent teacher and was speaking at commencement by popular demand — Emory students voted on which faculty member they wanted to hear from.

Nobody raised a factual issue about what she said, and you can experience the full speech on YouTube. It’s just that some of the students really liked her address.

Fair enough. Professor Stadler’s critics have already had their say. Now let’s hear from some readers who appreciated and enjoyed her graduation remarks…

Here, in pertinent part, are several positive messages about Professor Stadler and her commencement address. I present them without commentary; I’ve already told you what I think.

I am a 2011 Emory Law graduate….

First, Professor Stadler spoke at Commencement because she was chosen (from among all faculty) by a vote of the students. She was not a shill for the administration; her speech was not further evidence of administrative mistreatment. She was there because we asked her to be, with the knowledge that she had free range to speak on any issue. As such, we shouldn’t be seen as subject to another of the Administration’s skewed tactics to put us in our place. Say what you will about the Admin’s response to the USNWR fiasco, Professor Stadler spoke on behalf of the students and at our request.

Second, the portions of Professor Stadler’s speech reported on are not properly contextualized, and I fear that you quoted their report without looking at a complete transcript of her speech. Yes, she very pointedly told people to “get over it,” but she did so as part of a speech extolling the need to see the pursuit of a career as a way to find fulfillment and happiness. Her message, as she plainly told us at the start of her speech, was one of honesty coupled with hope. You dutifully reported on (portions of) the honesty, but gave no credit to the hope. She did not tell us to simply get over it — she told us to understand the changed nature of the legal market and to use those changes to find a career that will make us happy, to look for opportunity and to make a way forward. She did not suggest that we willingly or happily accept low paying small firm jobs or that we ought to heap scorn on Emory; instead, she suggested that we should broaden our horizons and consider alternative opportunities in a world where the coveted BigLaw job may not exist. I understand your criticism that this may be out of line with the reason that many students attended Emory in the first place, but changed circumstances necessitated a new approach, and she was good about giving hope and direction to that approach. She did so with respect for the students and our struggles, and the ability of to pull pithy quotes out of context doesn’t change that reality.

I can understand being wary of Professor Stadler’s speech from quoted bits alone, but I think that it is brave for a professor to admit that Emory has failed some students, and to be honest and harsh where necessary. I will give you anecdotal assurance that the crowd reaction — among family, friends, and most importantly, graduates — was overwhelmingly positive. We did not feel kicked in the proverbial nuts, nor did we feel as if her speech was hypocritical.

I just wanted to offer my opinion on your post regarding Professor Stadler and her commencement speech at my graduation. I was sitting with my fellow classmates during the speech, so I think I am in a good position to offer insight.

At the time, the overwhelming response to Professor Stadler’s speech was positive. In fact, directly after the ceremony much of the discussion centered around how great the speech was. My family (mother, father, and aunt and uncle) each came up to me separately after graduation and mentioned that they loved it. The speech provided just the right mix of wit and sarcasm that is lacking in law schools (and law blogs) everywhere.

I object to your description of the blunt statement “you might not be able to land that job” as a “karate chop to the nuts.” What I think would have been “intellectually dishonest” would have been for her to stand up there and talk about how bright things looked for us with our shiny new Emory degrees. Many of the graduates don’t have jobs. The outlook is terrible. At this point, if someone is holding their breath for Sullivan & Cromwell to get back to them about that job they applied for in August, I would suggest calling a doctor. Stadler recognized this fact – you crucified her for doing so.

Ultimately, Stadler celebrated the class and put our graduation in context of the world around us; I, for one, thank her for doing so, and I am not alone in having appreciated the address. The statement I most remember is not “Get over it” but “Crisis breeds Opportunity.” The whole speech was about us pursuing both success in the legal world and our own personal happiness and satisfaction, and that, in a twisted way, the recession and the ensuing job placement failures allow graduates to pursue both things, as opposed to just the former. If you watch the video, you will notice that people laughed when she said “Get over it.” It was perhaps uncomfortable laughter, but laughter nonetheless.

Commencement 2011- Emory University School of Law [YouTube]
Emory Law Professor to Grads: Don’t Complain []
In Commencement Speech, Law Prof Tells Grads Coveting Big-Money Jobs to ‘Get over It’
[ABA Journal]

Earlier: Possibly The Most Hypocritical Commencement Speech Ever
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Looks Like The U.S. News Law School Rankings Cost Someone A Job

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