The Honorable Eva Guzman, a former Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and now a partner at the Houston law firm of Wright, Close & Barger, was the convocation speaker for the Texas Law 2023 Sunflower Ceremony, held on May 6, at the Gregory Gym on the UT Austin campus.
In an inspirational speech delivered to the 292 graduates and more than 2000 family members and friends in attendance, Justice Guzman recognized the lasting influence of one’s legal education and the unlimited opportunities that lie ahead for the graduates. “Wherever your story takes you,” said Guzman, “find the sweet spot where your passion and your craft become one … where what you love doing becomes your art and your high calling.”
Justice Guzman made history when she became the first Latina to serve on the Texas Supreme Court—holding that position from 2009 until 2021—as well as the first to be elected to state-wide office in Texas. In her practice today, she is focused on appellate work and on arbitrations and mediation in state and federal courts. She is also experienced in commercial litigation and currently serves as general counsel for the Texas Association of Business.
“Justice Guzman is a celebrated jurist and amazing attorney with a wonderful record of public service and leadership,” said Dean Chesney. “She is a great lawyer, a great justice, and a great Texan!”
A full transcript of Guzman’s remarks is below this video of her speech.
As delivered on Saturday, May 6, 2023:
Dean Chesney, Esteemed Faculty, Distinguished Guests, Families and the Graduating Class of 2023 — I am deeply honored to join you Today.
Before I begin my formal remarks: Let me start with the Reason we are Here today —Congratulations Class of 2023
Maitland, the great scholar of English legal history, said “Taught law is tough law.” His simple observation stands as a powerful reminder of the importance and lasting influence of one’s legal education.
Today, we honor the culmination of your legal education and we celebrate your achievements in law school.
Each of you will receive a beautiful diploma in recognition of your achievement. Treasure it as a tangible reward for hard-earned knowledge.
From here on out, your reward for work well done will be the opportunity to do more (. . . and more . . . AND MORE work).
I Welcome you to this hard-working, but very rewarding, profession!
When graduation is behind you, a whole new life will await you —- not a life with spring breaks, summer breaks, and winter breaks —- that life is over.
Though you’ll surely miss those parts of law school life, you are entering a NEW season, beginning a NEW journey. Today marks the commencement of your lives in the law.
We celebrate the amazing possibilities that lay ahead because YOU are equipped to do extraordinary things.
As Mr. Onyediri made clear in his powerful and inspiring remarks, The University of Texas School of Law — has prepared you well to embark on your next chapter.
Are you ready to write your story? How will you fill the pages?
Will your stories be about winning? fame and fortune? prestige and power?
I hope you’ll aim higher. I hope you’ll go beyond the trappings of success to find significance in the high calling of our noble profession.
You will accomplish more if you love what you do. So, find your Passion.
Some of you may have a passion for negotiation and deal-making.
Or yearn to become trial lawyers — or appellate advocates.
Or to serve in the public sector as prosecutors, public defenders, or judges.
Some of you may want to teach the law or use your legal education to work in other professional fields.
Wherever your story takes you, find the sweet spot where your passion and your craft become one … where what you love doing becomes your art and your high calling.
Let me share a little about my journey in life and law.
After 10 years in private practice, I felt the pull to public service. And when an opportunity arose to apply for an opening on a state district court bench, I knew I had to take the chance even though I had never run for office, had no political ties, and no judicial experience. I turned the page and began a new chapter in my story.
Unsure, uncertain, but unrelenting in the pursuit of my passion for public service.
I was relatively young to become a judge, and given my youth, the interviewer asked me if I wanted to serve as a trial judge for the next 20 years. I answered, “No, I’ll be on the Supreme Court of Texas someday!” A bold answer at the time, but one that set the course for the chapters ahead.
I received the appointment to the trial bench 11 days after I applied, and later I would be appointed and elected to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, and ultimately to the Supreme Court of Texas, which was the honor of a lifetime.
So, as you step into your role as author of your aspirations – I say BE BOLD … TAKE RISKS … DON’T LIMIT YOUR Dreams — MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR OPPORTUNITIES.
WHAT do you want to be part of your story? Let me suggest a few essentials.
The first is a commitment to excellence. Wherever your story leads you, DO YOUR BEST. Commit to excellence
That means showing up prepared. Always.
Famed football coach Lou Holtz had a motto: “Preparation is everything.” One of his former athletes said, “We never had a game as hard as practice.”
That’s the kind of commitment to excellence you want to permeate your story.
Become a master of your craft.
Be a lawyer who lives in the truth, whose words CAN be trusted.
Be a lawyer that we, as a profession, want to celebrate and emulate.
Remember — A legal career is not the work of a moment. It’s built over time, like a story, chapter by chapter.
Seldom does a path lead directly to the mountaintop. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to spend some time in the valleys and the gorges. Look for the opportunities there.
Challenges and failures WILL be part of your stories. Use them to Grow, to Learn, and to Adapt.
Meeting challenges and overcoming failures is hard work. It takes what Victor Hugo called “the secret to all triumphs”— perseverance.
Albert Einstein credited his achievements not to his genius but to perseverance. “It’s not that I’m so smart,” he said, “It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
I know a thing or two about staying with problems.
Growing up, Perseverance was a way of life for me and my family.
I encountered obstacles.
I suffered disappointments.
I faced setbacks.
I stumbled. I fell, and I got back up again.
I’m a big-city Latina who grew up in Houston’s East End, the middle of seven children whose immigrant parents had a grade-school education.
As a child, I saw firsthand the value of a strong work ethic. Like my brothers and sisters, I landed my first job at an early age, working in a drapery factory after school.
The factory owners thought I was 16 and I thought $2.00 an hour was a great wage.
Despite their lack of formal education, My parents knew the value of education in a country teeming with opportunity. And, they spurred in us a drive to move ahead by excelling in school. They eventually saw all 7 of their children graduate from college.
The path of perseverance took us from humble beginnings to high places in science, business, law, and government. It took me to the top tier of the Texas Judiciary.
And, today our family is celebrating my niece, their granddaughter, who will become the first doctor in our family.
Looking back, at where I began and standing here today as your convocation speaker makes me especially grateful for my law degree which—for me—was the key to the door of opportunity.
“As every UT student knows: What starts here changes the world. What starts here starts with you. And you’re certainly off to a stellar start.
The sunflowers on your lapels prove that you know what it means to persevere. Talent and intellect have gotten you here, of course, but not without perseverance — the grit to push past obstacles and overcome defeat.
“But perseverance is not one long race. It’s many short races one after the other.”
Make perseverance part of your story.
As you preserve and pursue your lives in the law, I hope you will weave service to others into the fabric of your story —- not just to your clients but service to your profession and our justice system.
When I served as Chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, I worked alongside others in our profession to help ensure that every Texan has access to the courts.
In my work, I have seen firsthand the struggles of Texans whose voices are not heard and who would never be seen if it were not for lawyers willing to give their time and their talents.
A single mother, who was dying of cancer and who needed guardianship for her small child.
A veteran who sacrificed all for her country, but who needed legal assistance to access the benefits she was promised and entitled to.
A wrongfully convicted man who cried tears of joy because a lawyer answered the call to serve and secured his exoneration
What you do for others TODAY shapes what THEY will do for others tomorrow.
The story of Rehan Staton is a powerful reminder of how we can help shape paths for others. Rehan was a sanitation worker in Maryland who dreamed of going to Law School. He graduates this Month with a degree from Harvard law school.
He credits his journey to law school to the mentors who took an interest in him. Not surprisingly, he is already working in earnest to pay it forward and has raised over $70,000 for sanitation workers at Harvard.
Like Rehan, I hope you will honor your opportunities by giving something back. This call to service is what will make justice accessible to all. It is one of the enduring traditions of our profession – and a core part of the legacy you, as graduates of this revered law school, carry with you.
Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson captured the essence of the mission when speaking of the legacy of the late Chief Justice Jack Pope, reaffirming that we must all work to “ensure that all Texans, rich or poor, are welcome in the halls of justice.”
During the last few years, everyone in this room has seen how an unexpected catastrophic event can upend even the most settled and privileged lives. Imagine for a moment what it’s like to experience life knowing that no matter how deep the wrong — a lawyer, a courtroom, and a jury of your peers are simply outside of your reach.
That’s where you can and will make the difference. During your time in law school, some of you have championed access to justice, you have stood strong against the winds of inequality, you have taken on difficult causes, you have made your presence known in classrooms, courtrooms, and even the legislature.
I challenge you to continue to champion the cause of justice. Remember that, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”
Resolve today to give of yourself and give a voice to the voiceless and ensure your fellow Texans are seen.
In closing, I want to emphasize and underscore the importance of excellence, perseverance, service, and gratitude because they fuel a well-lived life in the law. Make them part of your story.
As your story develops, expect to edit every now and then …
You might have to change some plot lines .
You might have to work in a chapter you hadn’t planned.
You might find yourself in adventures you never imagined.
There are no rules. But, like a good lawyer, I have some advice:
Be Brave. Be Authentic. And Make it Memorable.
Extraordinary opportunities lay ahead for the Class of 2023.
Congratulations! Hook ’em!