Money or Passion? Inspiration from Sara Benson's Boalt Hall Graduation Speech
The University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) held commencement exercises in the Hearst Greek Theatre on May 14, 2005. The honored guest speaker was Mayor Gavin Newsom, the quintessential politician – cute, funny and a crowd pleaser – who spoke boldly and clearly. I was not there to hear the Mayor of San Francisco, but rather because my son Michael was receiving his Juris Doctor degree. Speaking on behalf of the LLM graduate class was a student who spoke with the most substance and passion of anybody speaking that warm morning, Sara R. Benson.
The stereotype image of what lawyers and attorneys become once they are turned loose on society was a far cry from what Sara presented to me and the audience.
Sara addressed the American dilemma: When do I work for money? When do I work pro bono and give back what I reap from society? And most importantly, when do I sit silent and when do I stand for justice?
Each of us must ask these questions of ourselves in order to “form a more perfect union, establish liberty and justice for all.” These words were not originally written with you and me as the intended audience. But today we must help bring them to fruition, as Sara Benson reminds us what Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people.”
Benson shared with us her own silence, a struggle with finding her passion in life and working for the firm, the cash cow. Which would you choose? “Instead of protecting the environment, I found myself protecting polluters. Instead of fighting for civil rights, I was defending employers who had treated their employees unfairly.”
She was addressing real life, not an abstract ideal or a question on a test, not the stereotype image of back door dealings.
“Remember why you came to law school. Remain true to yourself, your passion, and your dreams. If you came to law school with a greater goal, whether it is to save the environment and create a cleaner world for future generations or to end the injustice of racial, gender of sexual discrimination…do not ignore your sense of indignation at the inequities of society.”
From such a young heart as Sara’s a stereotype is being dismantled, and she inspires us to stand with her. I too will scream as loud as the greatest writers that ever lived. I work for money to feed my children, grandchildren and pay for the elitist educations they have received. I write for free to give back to humankind – an honest, truthful and untainted view of what money can’t buy. What twisted lies they whisper to me, I refuse to write for them, the main stream media.
It is very easy to accept money as payment for services rendered, but with it comes obligation to the supplier, the capitalist. I have walked down the road where suddenly any story or words written are the mouth piece for people with the ability to pay for it. It is an ugly memory when a writer is asked for an opinion and then told to rewrite your other opinion to please the suppliers of money. In America, there is no detachment from money and freedom of speech. For without money, you are denied access to the most powerful media outlets. For the time being, this crack will be used until it is shut down by money.
If there comes a time for me to become the panderer of words, selling my wares and service, then you know they will be tainted; then you know I or my family grows hungry and are at their mercy. But for now, that is far from what exists. No one in my home is starving to death – we throw food away daily. I have become a true member of the American empire.
Albert Einstein put it this way in May, 1949, the first edition of the Monthly Review: “Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrow, and to improve their conditions of life.”
I want to thank you, Sara R. Benson, for reminding me to stand up and fight with all my heart and passion against injustice that is used to subjugate us all