Senator Ellis 2013 UT School of Law Commencement Speech


Thank you, Dean Farnsworth, distinguished faculty, honored graduates and family members, it is a thrill for me to be here on this special day. I am honored you invited me to share it with you.

The Class of 2013 hails from thirty-two different states and four different countries and can speak twenty-two languages, from Arabic to Danish to Mandarin to Wolof.

Your class counts among its members a national championship skier and college varsity football player as well as a professional ballet dancer, a modern dance improviser, and players of the oboe, trombone, guitar, and piccolo. Several Eagle Scouts are part of the class, as are a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.

The Class of 2013 has contributed nearly 25,000 hours of pro bono service during their law school tenure.

They volunteered their time with charitable, not-for-profits, and governmental organizations throughout Austin, the state of Texas, and the United States during both the academic year and summers.

I know everyone hates commencement speeches; they’re never memorable and you just want to celebrate with your family and friends. But, to prepare I read through a lot of them and the best advice might have been:

“Always use sunscreen.”

Hard to argue with that one.

But being here today reminded me of my time at UT Law and how that prepared me for my career in law and government.

Women/Ann Richards

This class = 46 percent women; 1994 class= 41 percent women


Today you are this close to being one of the few, the proud, the reviled: a lawyer. You are a law school graduate, from one of the premier institutions in the country, and well on your way to becoming the man or woman your parents dreamed of. To the joy of many and the surprise of a few.

You are ready to become the defenders of the Constitution, the guardians of liberty and the champion of the common man and women. Protector of the powerless and stewards of that most important principle: everyone in America, regardless of the content of their character or the size of their bank account, is equal under the eyes of the law.

It is a sacred trust and one that deserves respect. It is your job to earn it.
One of my favorite lawyers, John Adams had a simple motto in his life: “Be just and good.” That is your obligation as an attorney and citizen of this world.

Unfortunately, despite today’s validation of the last three years of your work, the truth is you’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here.

While each of you will have triumphs, I want to make something perfectly clear: Failure is an option. Not only is it an option, it is a certainty. You are going fall flat on your face, not once or twice, but often. Most of the times it is going to be when and where no one can see you, but sometimes it is going to be in full view of everyone you know and work with

We all have.

• Joe Jamail, one of the greatest and most successful lawyers in history, struggled mightily with torts.
• Steve Jobs got fired from Apple.
• Barack Obama and George W. Bush could not get elected to Congress.
• Steven Spielberg made Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
• Michael Jordan runs the Charlotte Bobcats.

See? Unbelievably successful people fail. So will you, and it is going to be scary, but you will recover and do great things. Success doesn’t mean one is successful and failing doesn’t make one a failure. In fact, it is your response to failure that will determine just how successful you will be.

I leave you with this observation from Joe Jamail:

“From the beginning, to all of us, it has been said that the law is a jealous mistress. That is what we are told. What they did not tell us is that the law is a nymphomaniac. It will leave you tired, worn out, exhausted, sometimes delusional, but at the end, knowing the experience was and is beyond pleasure and satisfaction. It is priceless.”

May your life and careers bring you the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. May you turn your back on darkness, face life head on and live your dreams.

And, for God’s sake, wear sunscreen.

Thank you all.

Posted in: Speech • Tagged with: