Adel Tamano’s Commencement Speech at HLS


Salaam. Friends, this is Adel Tamano. I want to share with you my commencement speech at Harvard Law School. I graduated almost three years ago, time flies by so fast. It embodies a lot of what we are trying to do with this blog and in our own lives. JV, Danton, Gilbert, and all our web friends, I hope you find something useful in it –

Dean Kagan, the faculty and staff of Harvard Law School, the Graduating Class of 2005, our family and friends – Good Afternoon:

We begin with a caveat: If you believe that the praise and celebration are the only remarks that are appropriate for a graduation ceremony, then what I have to say will be a big disappointment.

This is not to belittle the hard work and sacrifice that we have undergone in order to be here today. For all of this and more, we deserve the warmest congratulations.

However, it would not serve us well to focus solely on our personal achievements: that would merely serve our vanity. What is more, it would be untruthful. Today’s graduation belongs as much to us as it does to our parents, spouses, relatives, and loved ones. They have sacrificed as much as we have, if not more so. They deserve equal praise for their support, love, and encouragement.

Furthermore, we must remember that our education is a great privilege. For someone like myself, a Filipino-Muslim, studying at Harvard was an unbelievable opportunity. In the predominantly Muslim areas of the Philippines, out of 10 grade-school students, only 2 will be able to complete high-school. Those in the developing world know, firsthand, that education is a truly precious commodity.

This is why our commencement today should not only be a time for self-congratulation but, more importantly, a moment for deep and sincere reflection. We must ask the essential questions of a graduate: 1) What have we learned?; and 2) Where do we go from here?

Today, we leave the comfortable and secure confines of Harvard Law School and enter the real world. It is a world of growing unilateralism, of heightened volatility in the Middle East, of mounting threats to security, of unrelenting degradation of the environment, and an ever widening gap, in economic terms, between the developed and developing nations.

What is more, we depart knowing that we have a responsibility to address these global issues. It should be emphasized that we, the members of the LL.M. Class of 2005, were not chosen from the thousands of applicants to the Graduate Program solely because of our academic or professional achievements. Instead, the choice was made with the prospect that a Harvard education would enable us to become future leaders and policymakers. Very simply, much is expected of us.

Accordingly, in order to address these global issues we must ask: what have we learned? Certainly, from the 250 courses available in the Law School, we have learned much in terms of legal theory and the substance of the Law. However, the most valuable source of education was our exposure to the diverse beliefs and cultures of men and women from over 60 nations. Indeed, the real genius of the Graduate Program is its embrace of multiculturalism and diversity.

In fact, it is this multiculturalism that will prove to be of the most benefit not only to each of us but more so to the Law School itself. This is a vital point: the very existence of the Graduate Program and the presence of legal scholars from over 60 nations is a powerful symbol and a clear reminder that no single country, race, or religion has a monopoly on good will, knowledge, or wisdom.

So where do we go from here? This is a question that each one of us, the 162 members of the LL.M. Class of 2005, will have to answer on our own and in our own time. We all desire to succeed and success itself can be defined and achieved in myriad ways. But one thing is certain – if your graduation becomes the high-water mark of your life, then you have failed to achieve the hopes of this institution. More importantly, you will have failed yourself. Again, we must never forget that much is expected of us.

I must confess that there is a personal reason for framing this speech in terms of poverty, terrorism, pollution, and world peace. I am a husband and a father of a two-year old son and when I think about the enormity of the global problems that we face, frankly, I am filled with fear and doubt. This is why I have such a personal stake in the success of our class and of the LL.M. Program itself.

Ultimately, the real value of our education will be assessed in terms of our making the world a more just, peaceful, equitable, environmentally sustainable, and tolerant place for our children.

Finally, in this world that, at times, seems so determined to destroy itself on the basis of differences in ideology, race, religion, or ethnicity, I have, nevertheless, witnessed 162 people from over 60 nations meet, initially, as strangers, then come together as classmates – who argued, debated, and, at times, vehemently disagreed – and, ultimately, become united as genuine friends. In this I find my optimism, hopefulness, and confidence. It is upon this bond of friendship and the spirit of understanding and humanity that I entrust my hopes for our future. I am truly proud to be a member of the LL.M. Class of 2005.

I thank you. I honor you. Congratulations.