Remarks by Chairman Powell at the opening ceremony of the Georgetown University Law Center

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Thank you, Dean Trainor, for the invitation to speak here today. I am very sorry that circumstances prevent me from joining you in person.

I’ll start by thanking the fathers, husbands, partners, other family members, and mentors out here. Without your support, sacrifices and encouragement, we would not have much to celebrate today.

And to the Class of 2024, congratulations on receiving your law degree. You are the most selective class in Georgetown’s history, selected from among 14,000 applicants, and the most qualified as well. Among you are Fulbright Scholars, military veterans, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America alumni, student-athletes, talented musicians, and even a doctor. Impressive collection. This is also the most diverse class in the school’s 154-year history.

And I’m especially proud today to say that there are many Georgetown people in my family tree. My father graduated from college in 1943 before serving in the US Army in World War II. After the war, he earned his law degree here and practiced law in Washington, D.C. I am fortunate to have two wonderful daughters; One graduated from college in 2012; The other is a member of the Law Center’s Class of 2026.

It seems I was in your shoes yesterday, receiving my degree, looking forward with optimism and excitement, wondering what lies ahead.

I can’t help but think fondly of the time I spent here. For many years, friends from law school have gathered annually for a weekend to renew our relationships and laugh about times gone by. These gatherings are referred to as “Big Chill,” a reference to the 1983 film about middle-aged college friends reuniting. I made lifelong friendships here that I still have to this day, and I hope it’s the same for you.

Besides all the hard work, I also remember the fun. A favorite tradition was to attend the Saturday midnight shows Rocky Horror Picture Show At the Main Theater on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.

Now, if you live a culturally deprived life and are tragically unfamiliar with the movie, it’s a raucous musical starring a young Tim Curry. Everyone in the theater was singing, screaming, and throwing popcorn at the screen. Many are dressed like the characters. Now, I wasn’t dressed up – sorry to disappoint you – but the party wasn’t complete until we’d all danced “The Time Warp” to the movie’s famous theme song.

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In fact, I still remember the steps, and I intended to show you Time Warp, but that won’t be possible today.

Instead, I will offer some thoughts that I might have benefited from hearing when I was sitting in your chairs just 45 years ago.

An embarrassing change
The years since I graduated have brought waves of radical change to the workplace and society as a whole, much of it driven by technology. Imagine a world with no internet, no email or text messaging, no personal computers or cell phones, and no social media. No doubt some of you parents are thinking: I’ll be fine with this world!

The pace of change is likely to continue to be very rapid. Be alert to ways your work life may change. Think about how you can prepare for these changes and turn them to your advantage and the benefit of society. The practice of law has changed over the years; If I choose the practicing attorney path, I would think about what the practice of law could look like in 10 or 20 years.

In a world that will continue to evolve rapidly and in unpredictable ways, you will need to be agile. Embracing change and taking risks can be an important part of your development as a professional and as a person. Your formal education may end today, but you are not finished learning. Many of the important things you will need to know can only be learned through experience. Experience can be a difficult but irreplaceable teacher.

For example, toward the end of my second year here, it was time to choose the newspaper’s next editor-in-chief Georgetown Law Journal. I thought there were a lot of colleagues who were better qualified, but they simply didn’t want the job. So, with a lot of trepidation, I registered my name. I was secretly, but completely, terrified at the prospect of being chosen. Surprisingly, I was too. What now?

It turns out that, as I feared, I was not well prepared to take on this responsibility. I had to keep people interested and motivated enough to work on this project magazine When so many things compete for their attention. I had to have a plan for the organization and not just for myself. I had to do this while exuding a confidence I didn’t feel. My main memory of that time is thinking, “This is much harder and different than I expected!”

What I know now is that almost no one is ready for their first leadership roles. When you take on a leadership role, it’s very common to doubt yourself. If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to believe in yourself and put yourself in situations where you will be seriously challenged to do new things. Assume that you will make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes; Do not exaggerate in regretting them. You will fall. I wake up. Repeat the cycle.

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The more you do it, the more you will learn and the faster you will grow as a person and a leader. Also know that in my experience, there is no single model for a successful leader. Each of you has the ability to lead successfully.

There is no one way
One of the great things about your legal education is that it prepares you for success in a wide range of potential paths. I left the practice of law a few years after leaving this school. But my legal education helped me along the way. Studying law teaches you to think clearly, analyze thoroughly, and understand all sides of an argument. The possibilities that await you are very wide. You can work at one law firm your entire career. Or you might leave the law fairly soon, as I did, and never look back. You will always benefit from what you learn here.

The fact is that I keep a copy of the Federal Reserve Act which I review often.

Like many of you, I imagine, I knew I wanted to do public service. When I left law school, I remember thinking about people like George Shultz and Cyrus Vance, two prominent figures of the time who had successful careers in the private sector and periodically served in government.

The head of the investment bank in New York where I worked as a young man was Nicholas Brady, who had an extraordinary career in investment banking and was also a US senator from New Jersey. I was the most junior employee, but I wanted to introduce myself and tell him about my own aspirations. But getting close to him was terrifying. Maybe he will refuse to meet me. Maybe he’ll think I’m not committed to the company if I tell him I’m interested in public service.

I finally mustered up the courage to present myself to his office. I told him I grew up in Washington, had been a federal law clerk and congressional staffer, and wanted to do public service along the way. I said that if you need someone to help you with anything you do in Washington, I’m your guy. He said something along the lines of, “Cool, thanks.” Then I crept back down the stairs to my broom closet in one of the offices and wondered if it mattered.

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A few months later, I received a call from his secretary. I can still hear her raspy voice. “Can you come and see Mr. Brady?” When I got there, he said, “I want you to help me with this thing.” This thing was to defend an oil company from a hostile takeover attempt by a colorful corporate raider of the era named T. Boone Pickens. I ended up spending months going back and forth from New York to Washington with Nick. A few years later, Nick Brady became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nick asked me to join him at the Treasury Department, which opened the door to greater levels of public service. The point here is this: If I had not forced myself out of my desk, walked up the stairs to the fifteenth floor, and presented myself to his office that day, the rest of my life would have been very different, and I would have done so. I’m not standing here today.

Mustering that little bit of initiative changed my life. A small initiative can make a big difference in anyone’s career.

I will conclude by encouraging you to think beyond yourselves. Each of you has the potential to achieve success in any field you choose; It’s important to also think about how you can give back and use your gifts to make a difference. Consider the motto of this school: “Law is the means, justice is the end.” Many of you have served in legal clinics where you defended underrepresented individuals and organizations. Many of you will play important roles in the military, in nonprofit organizations, and in governments around the world.

Every generation has a commitment to bringing us closer to the ideal, as embodied in the famous image of Lady Justice blindfolded and holding the scales. You should consider yourselves among the luckiest in our community to graduate from this institution, to have the support of your loved ones through three grueling years, and the health and other good fortune to not falter along the way. Many years ago, one of my predecessors, Ben Bernanke, said: “Those who are most fortunate…also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.” I can’t improve it.

Thank you for having me. Georgetown will always hold a special place in my heart. Thanks again to Dean Trainor and all the faculty, and warmest congratulations to the Class of 2024.

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