Hon. James E. Graves Jr. commencement speaker for Syracuse University College of Law

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Commencement speaker Hon. James E. Graves Jr. and College of Law Dean Craig M. Boise (Photo: Chuck Wainwright/Wainwright Photo)

JANS – Hon. James E. Graves Jr., U.S. Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, was commencement speaker at Syracuse University College of Law, his alma mater (‘80) May 3. “Begin each day expecting that the world owes you nothing, because it doesn’t, and then you will be delighted with every kind word, every helping hand, and every little smile, which is given to you during the day,” he told the class of 2024.

Judge Graves said the trajectory of his life was changed profoundly by his experience at Syracuse. “Like many of you, I arrived full of fear and wonder, but I had come to a place where I was nurtured, shaped, and molded by people who were committed, dedicated, and determined to prepare me for life after law school.

“And three years later I sat where you sit today, thrilled to have completed this part of my journey but still with some apprehension. After all, there is the bar exam, the new job, and for some the job search,” he said.

“So much of your success in the quest to reach your goal, your degree, has been because of preparation. So I want to talk briefly about preparation, people, and passion. And how important those three things are in the pursuit of happiness. A pursuit which the Declaration of Independence lists as an unalienable right. I want you to be happy.”


“Work – read, study, listen. Handle what’s in front of you. What you do now prepares you for the future. I spoke at a school where a parent said to me, ‘my son wants to be a judge, what should he do?’ I said what grade is he? ‘8th grade.’ I said, he should pass to the 9th grade. I didn’t mean to be flippant or dismissive but the point is you have to handle what’s happening in your day-to-day existence. Do well the job you have now, the assignment you have now, and it will prepare you for greater, better, more desirable opportunities in the future.

“So you should embrace change. Take risks – calculated risk. You should be a skeptical optimist, always positive but ask questions, dig deeper, look beneath the surface, know the history. Especially in a world where everyone is affected by social media, alternative truth, and artificial intelligence, it pays to be a skeptical optimist. That means, you think positive, you strive for the best but that you recognize that failure happens.”


“Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Almost everything you’ll do as lawyers will involve or affect people. You should be ever mindful of that. When I’m asked to talk about the most important case I’ve decided, that is a difficult question to answer. And it’s because every case is important to the litigants involved in the case. Maybe different levels of importance, but important nonetheless.”


“Cases are about people. Whether you’re in private practice or public service, I hope you care about people, about humanity. That helps you to be passionate about your work.”

His parting advice to his fellow graduates was, “Each day you wake, determine that no matter what, you’re going to make the world just a little better than it was the day before.”

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Hon. James E. Graves Jr. commencement speaker for Syracuse University College of Law

By Jackson Advocate News Service
May 13, 2024