Annie Bennett Delivers Student Address for Class of 2020 at Sunflower Ceremony
Annie Bennett, Permanent Class President for the Class of 2020, delivered a touching and uplifting speech at this year’s virtual Sunflower Ceremony in light of the unusual circumstances during which the ceremony took place. She began her remarks with examples of the resilience of the Class of 2020, a class faced with challenges like no other, and concluded by expressing her confidence in the new graduates and their collective brighter future. In addition to serving as Permanent Class President, Bennett has served as President of Texas Law Fellowships, as a Deans Fellow for the Sutton Society for two years, as the Head Deans Fellow of the Society Program, and as an Associate Editor of the Texas Law Review. After graduation, she will practice law in Washington, D.C., representing victims of domestic violence and abuse. A full transcript of her remarks can be found below the video of her speech.
Remarks on Behalf of the Class of 2020, by Annie Bennett
As delivered on Saturday, May 23, 2020.
To the class of 2020, families, friends, and all those tuning in today—
Welcome to our virtual graduation ceremony which is of course exactly what we thought we’d be doing on May 23rd! I wish so very much that we could all be together today, but nevertheless, I’m grateful for the opportunity to celebrate along with you and cannot wait for the day we get to do so in person.
I want to say first that it’s an odd thing to have a few minutes to try to reflect on the last three years, during a global pandemic, while facing an uncertain future. There are classmates grieving family members today, there are classmates and families facing unemployment, and we know that the inequalities of our system have been further exposed and continue to disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities. To ignore that today would be insincere. Yet there’s space to grieve and to also celebrate, in the midst of everything going on—the work we have put in over the last three years and the accomplishment it is to—one day!—hold a diploma from Texas Law. Today we can be thankful that we got to do it at all, to be sad in some ways that it’s over, and over like this, and immensely relieved in others.
So while it feels like less of a year for quips about three years of free pizza and legal puns that made us those people at the party, I do hope we can fully acknowledge and hold both the grief and the celebration today.
Today certainly isn’t what we expected, and perhaps, a lot of our law school experience could be summed up in the same way. It seems that one of the only certain things about the future is that it will be…not what we expect. We’re told that law school teaches us not just content, but skills. How to think, how to craft an argument. And it’s true.
But entering the professional world in 2020 is going to require a lot more than the ability to analyze.
So I’d like to reflect on two things our law school experience has taught us—resilience and kindness—two things the class of 2020 has embodied, and perhaps the very skills that will be most important as we move forward.
Class of 2020, the fact that each of us are graduating today is evidence of the resilience of this group. It wasn’t a question of–did law school knock you down at some point? It’s a question of–what did you do when law school knocked you down? The past three years required determination, whether you gritted out 1L to get to what you really wanted to do, whether you looked at your first semester grades with disappointment and frustration, whether you too fell victim to the great tacogate of 2018. You had the courage to keep showing up, courage I see all throughout our class. It’s in Allison driving repeatedly to and from Hutto before class to meet with her clients in the immigration clinic, not only getting bond posted but working to raise the funds to pay that bond. It’s in Anna & Joe winning an asylum trial on the merits in the middle of finals. All of those people are graduating as Chancellors today, which truly amazes me. I also see it in the classmates who dealt with depression, anxiety, and kept showing up. It would have been easy not to. So today is a celebration of resilience.
But in those challenges, class of 2020, you also exhibited greater kindness. Because we needed each other to keep showing up. There are countless individual acts of kindness that helped each of us get here today — it’s the daily hugs from Ruben, Jordan voluntarily helping me move all of my furniture out of a fourth floor apartment in Texas heat, or Jessi not once letting busyness keep her from listening to a friend who was struggling. To the TQs, the Society Program, student mentors, clinic partners, every friend who sent notes — you took time to care for people, and it made a difference.
And we benefited from the kindness of the Texas Law community, the countless faculty members who took time to invest in us as people. The kindness of professor dickerson who will remember that thing you’re interested in and send articles a year later, of Judge Pitman, who is not only taking the time to speak with us today but takes any student in his seminar out for coffee and career and life advice, all while overseeing one of the busiest federal dockets in the country. And Professor Perry may have just eviscerated us for making the Constitution say what we wanted it to say, but he would never fail to cross the Atrium to say hello. To all of you, we thank you. Your work and your care have not gone unnoticed.
I once heard an attorney say that when it comes to practicing law, “perfection does not get a thank you, perfection is the job.” I hope that we are the class of lawyers that…throws that out the window. Not only because perfection is impossible, but because the cost of expecting it from ourselves has always been too high. Our job will not be to be perfect, nor have we learned to be so—I’ll spare the audience the many examples of this today—but we have learned to be more resilient, kinder human beings. As we pursue excellence in our careers, as we enter the world at a time that feels scary and unknown, maybe these are the traits that we will need. That the world will need from us.
And let’s not forget that there are so many people in our corner as we start this new chapter. There are the many loved ones tuning in today, people who have celebrated and loved us long before the LSAT was a thought in our mind, people who, if we’re being honest, do not love us because of our legal knowledge, but love us in spite of it. There is also a vast network of proud UT alum that we join today, people who know what it is to sit in Tarlton Library and hear the distant cannon of a Longhorn touchdown while studying for Civ Pro.
And we have one another, the 287 of us that today, symbolically cross a stage.
Three years ago, Dean Farnsworth said at Admitted Students day that Texas Law wanted the students that were looking for community over competition, the ones that would hear that statement and know they were in the right place.
You all are the ones that heard that and said you were in. And while it didn’t go as we expected, while we graduate today in our homes rather than together, none of it takes away from what we have done, individually, and together as a class. I am so proud to be a member of this class and thankful to be your Permanent Class President. I am confident that our world will be different because we made the choice to do this together. Texas Law class of 2020 — I hope you are celebrating today, and I can’t wait til the day we get to do so together! Thank you.