Law Students of Hope

This past Friday, Marquette Law School held a celebration of hope – hope for our community, hope for the legal profession, and hope for our institution.  The 2011 Posner Pro Bono Exchange between Fr.  Fred Kammer, S.J., director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans and Mike Gousha, Distinguished Fellow of Law and Public Policy at Marquette Law School, followed immediately by the induction of 91 new law student members of the Pro Bono Society (bringing the total to 103 for the academic year), was bounded by hope.

How could we alumni, staff, faculty, and donors in attendance not find hope and admiration for so many law students who committed themselves to placing their legal education at the service of those in need, without credit or compensation, even in the midst of a difficult economy and increasing academic competition?  There is no requirement to perform such voluntary service, yet, each year, an increasing number of our law students choose to perform more than fifty hours of supervised, law-related, volunteer service in our community.  Whether at the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, the Legal and Medical Partnership for Families, the Marquette Foreclosure Mediation Program, the Marquette Legal Initiative for Nonprofit Corporations, or any of a dozen other programs or placements, these students render a real service to those in need – and in so doing, begin a career commitment to the principal of pro bono publico – service for the good of the public.

Fr. Kammer reminded us that service to others, particularly service to the most vulnerable among us, is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching and thus, a central theme of Jesuit education. 

Yet it is easy for those who serve without being rooted in the value-guided education that Marquette seeks to provide, to become disenchanted – “burned out” – in the process.  So, as he so often demonstrated in his own long career as a lawyer and advocate for the poor, one must maintain hope – along with faith and charity, as one of the cardinal virtues among life’s travails.  Fr. Kammer ended his exchange with this quote from Vaclav Havel, made in 1986, shortly before the Velvet Revolution:

Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the work or estimate of the situation.  Hope is not prognostication.  It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart . . . .

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.  It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out . . . . It is this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.

Thank you to our students for demonstrating this true hope to us; to our Dean for creating the conditions in which great hope is possible, even celebrated; to the Posner Family Foundation; and to all of those who have gone before us and continue to support us along the way – pro bono publico.

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