Be neurotic and evolve into your special calling.

AuthorBaron, Roger

On the afternoon of May 6, 2016, at the University of South Dakota, Professor Emeritus Roger Baron delivered the Keynote Address during the Hooding Ceremony for the USD Law Class of 2016. That commencement address is reprinted here, with minor stylistic edits and footnotes to identify sources and provide additional information. The Keynote Speaker is a notable individual chosen each year the graduating class.


    I would ask the USD Law Class of 2016 to stand up, please. This is the last time I will have the chance to ask you to stand up. I want to start this address off the same way Jimmy Fallon starts his Tonight Show every night. Those of us who watch The Tonight Show know what Jimmy Fallon says every single night: "You made it! You're here! This is it! You finally made it! You're here! This is it! That's what I am talking about!" Well this applies to you, USD Law Class of 2016: You made it! You're here! This is it! You know what I'm talking about... You finally made it! You're here! This is it! Stand up. Let's all give these students a round of applause. Students, now is a good time for you to acknowledge the assistance of your loved ones: your parents, spouses, siblings, children. You would not be here today without their support, patience, and encouragement. Please turn to your loved ones and give them a round of applause.


    Let's talk about this law degree. I encourage you to appreciate the flexibility that your law degree gives you. You have the ability to launch into countless new adventures because of your education: to be a lawyer, to be a successful business person, to be a judge, to be a political leader, to be a teacher of many subjects... the list goes on.

    The term "utility infielder" is utilized in baseball to describe a versatile player--one who is able to play multiple positions. In the game of life, your law degree enables you to be a utility infielder. With your law degree, you have become a utility infielder in the game of life. In fact, it goes above and beyond that. I submit to you that you have become the ultimate utility infielder, outfielder, pitcher, and designated hitter in the game of life. You may not appreciate this now, but it is true.

    Not everyone with a law degree becomes a practicing lawyer. In fact, not everyone with a law degree takes and passes a bar exam. But, I encourage--strongly encourage--each and every one of you to fully devote your time and efforts to passing the upcoming bar exam that lies ahead for you. Passing that bar exam will only enhance your opportunities in life.

    I also encourage you to be somewhat neurotic in your career path. Enjoy the right to evolve into your maximum personal effectiveness. If you look at the resume of some of the most effective and successful law graduates, one might get the impression that this person is either neurotic or has trouble holding a job. But, the fact is that these individuals chose to explore many options during their careers. A diverse and varied resume simply reflects the wonderful variety of options available to those who have a law degree. You have earned the right to be neurotic in pursuing your pathway. You have earned the right "to evolve." By way of example--and I could give many--I want to mention Dick Casey. Dick is an attorney of my same age. During recent years, Dick served as President of the State Bar of South Dakota and also as President of the South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association. About this time last year, Dick announced that he decided to leave one of the state's top law firms where he was a partner in order to become an assistant state's attorney in Minnehaha County assigned to abuse and neglect cases. This is what Dick wanted to do--handle abuse and neglect files--just as he had done much earlier in his career. I spoke with Dick on the phone a few weeks ago, and Dick told me that he felt he could most effectively utilize his talent and energy as an attorney in public service. He felt he could be particularly effective in rebuilding the home environment for children in South Dakota. In Dick's words, "protecting these kiddos" is a very important thing for him to do. He handles a large case load and is kept quite busy. There are many other successful law grads, like Dick Casey, who have made and continue to make changes in their life's work.


    I want to return to a question raised during your Civil Procedure course, when you were all first-year students. The question was, "Why did you go to law school?" As some of you may recall from comments in Civil Procedure, I have been intrigued, at times almost obsessed, with the question of why you decided to go to law school. There are no wrong answers, but your answer may change over the years. While I was in law school, my early responses were, if I'm honest, "I am not sure," or "to be able to advocate on behalf of others and causes." Probably the most honest answer I could have given at the time was "To learn how things work." I believe I challenged you, as first-year students, to consider this question. For me, the question evolved from, "Why did you decide to go to law school?," asked during law school, to, "Why did you go to law school two years ago? Five years ago? Nine years ago? Fourteen years ago? Twenty-five years ago?" And even today--some 43 years ago? Forty years ago this month, I graduated from law school.


    I have occasionally heard newly-admitted law students say, in a somewhat flippant manner, "I think it would be good to 'pick up' a law degree." I don't believe that this is a realistic answer for anyone. I know--and I know that each one of you also knows--that you did not go through this intense three-year period of...

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