U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, CC '73, Law '76, helped law students transition into lawyers Friday as he urged them to reinvigorate and modernize the legal system.
Progress is "our Nation's oldest—and perhaps finest—tradition," Holder said in his graduation speech, tracing the theme to the development of the U.S. Constitution. "Young people, it seems to me, are uniquely qualified to re-imagine—and in doing so, to reinvigorate—the law and the world."
Columbia Law graduates, he said, have promising futures ahead of them. But they also have "a Columbia responsibility" to "look for ways to serve others and to strengthen both our justice system and our commitment to the rule of law." With that, he urged students to "envision the most exciting vision" they've had for improving law. Talk about it, think about it, never forget it, he said.
Holder said he was happy to feel back at home on campus, giving a nod to modernization of another kind: "I hear about the construction of 200 luxury on-campus dorm rooms? When we were college students here, President Obama and I were lucky to have hot running water."
He also waxed poetic about his college activism days—much like he did at last year's CC Class Day.
"During my senior year, several of us took one of our concerns—that black students need a designated space to gather on campus—to the Dean's office. This being Columbia, we proceeded to occupy that office," he said. The sit-ins targeted Dean Henry Coleman, who led them to reach a compromise—and whom Holder later asked for a recommendation in what he called the "ultimate display of chutzpah."
"And lo and behold, he agreed," Holder recounted. "Only at Columbia, my friends."