“Do you believe in miracles? If you do, then you have come to the right place today, and if you don’t believe in miracles, you have come to the right place, but you’re here at the wrong time, because in the next 20 minutes, you will be utterly and completely convinced that miracles can and do occur, and your life will be forever changed.” – Catherine Groll, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School graduation speaker and 1992 WMU-Cooley graduate.
WMU-Cooley Graduation Speaker Catherine Groll
“If that completely scares you, or you are just totally not in the mood for yet ANOTHER life changing event, this might be a great time to go to the bathroom! The word miracle is derived from the Latin word miraculum, which is derived from mirari “to wonder.” A miracle is an event that provokes wonder. As such, it must be in some way extraordinary, unusual, or contrary to our expectations.
THE FIRST MIRACLE – SYNCHRONICITY
Let’s start with the miracle of all of us, being together at this time and place exactly. Do you ever marvel, just marvel, at the unbelievable complexity of events and pathways, and coincidental moments that had to take place to gather this particular group of people, all born at different times and different dates, from all over the world, from all walks of life? To bring us, each and every one, to the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan, on a Sunday afternoon, a sacred conspiracy of some pre-ordained and pre-destined journey to the here and now. Together. You are all one foot away from your new life, as a law school graduate, and one foot in here from your old life, as a student. Once you walk out that door today, nothing will ever be the same.
Some of you may be very sure-footed and clear about what is going to happen and where you are going next. You may have a well-thought-out plan, and a great job lined up. You have no worries about paying bills or student loans and you are good to go. You people need to get a life – you have obviously been working overtime!
WMU-Cooley graduates celebrate their accomplishment
Others of you, maybe many of you, may be hesitant to walk out that door, because reality waits, and the cold truth is – the picture is a little murky. Will you pass the bar? How will you pay everyone back? What if you don’t get a job? What if no miracles happen? Well, I believe in the Divine Perfection of the Universe, so we should probably move on to Miracle Number 2 before you start to panic about that whole student loan thing.
THE SECOND MIRACLE – AGAINST ALL ODDS – HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
Take some time today to take stock and reflect on the very personal and hard-fought journey that brought you here. What has your path been? How unlikely was it that you would be here today? Weren’t there naysayers and disbelievers when you said you were going to law school? Weren’t there financial concerns? What were your challenges along the way? What did you overcome? Weren’t there moments when you wanted to quit and you doubted yourself and you said, “ I can’t do this anymore.”
But you did. You persevered. And look around you. These brothers and sisters in arms – It is instant family, an unbreakable bond. You are now part of a community of people who have gone on to literally change the world. Governors and senators, CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, mavericks and rebels, game changers and visionaries, everyone of them a graduate of this school.
I have known since I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a lawyer.
- First, if you told me the sky was blue, I wanted to know what your basis was for that conclusion, why you insisted on imposing your opinion about the sky on me in a discriminatory fashion, and what was your definition of the word ‘sky.’ Basically, I was every mother’s nightmare child! Fortunately, I fell in love with a man named Perry Mason who was a TV lawyer and he could whip the world into truth and justice in the space of one hour.
- Second, my father died of medical malpractice, due to a missed cancer diagnosis, and learning that negligence could kill people scarred me in a permanent way.
- Third, my mother gave me a Black’s Law Dictionary for my 18th birthday and encouraged me to go and ask a local attorney, who was well known as a rabble-rouser, if I could come and work for him. I went and he took me under his wing. It was there that I first learned about the inequality and injustice that occurred with the immigrant population in New Mexico and it deeply affected me, and I saw that the law was a powerful tool in the hands of the right people.
- Fourth, and this is completely just between you and me, I was quite the juvenile delinquent. I dropped out of high school in 11th grade, took my GED, dropped out of college. I was going to be a rock star, toured with a very bad garage band.
I was not very focused and easily distracted – but somehow I managed to graduate respectably from college and started working as a legal assistant, which helped me get back on track about applying to law school. I signed up to take the LSAT. I did not study. They did not have prep classes like they do now. The night before, I was very irresponsible, went out with friends, partied too much, and barely made it to the test. I was hung over and late and I really had no idea what I was in for. I had never done a single thing to prepare for this momentous exam which was about to determine the course of my life. So you can imagine what went through my head when I read this first question, which was supposedly (allegedly) testing my logical analysis skills.
There are eight people in a line at the bank. It is a cold, snowy day. Three of the people have on scarfs and one of the scarfs has the color blue in it. One of the eight is sneezing. The second and seventh persons in line are holding wallets. The only man in line has on a yellow hat. One of them took Bus Route number six. Which one had oatmeal for breakfast?
Wait. What??? Whoa, I am in some serious trouble here. Holy crap. If this is what law school is all about, I am way out of my league. First of all, I don’t even eat oatmeal. And I am not proud of what happened next, and I truly hope that the statute of limitations has run with the Character and Fitness committee, but I panicked, and made the only decision I could think of at the time. I would just randomly fill out the dots with a number two pencil. And that is exactly what I did. Unbelievably, I miraculously passed, but just barely. I applied to only three law schools, and made the waiting list at one of them. But none of that is the real miracle. The real miracle is what happened next.
In my mailbox a few week later was what can only be described as a love letter from WMU-Cooley Law School. In essence, it said, ‘We know you’re the kind of girl who doesn’t follow the rules. Hey, neither do we. You want to follow the road less traveled, well, we are blazing the trail. We’ve got options – we are redefining who gets to be a lawyer in this country – we are opening the doors. You can come part-time, you can come full-time. You want to do weekends or nights so you can keep your day job? Not a problem. You don’t have to be rich, white or come from an Ivy League school, just be who you are, and let us give you the opportunity of a lifetime.’
Well, sign me up!! They were playing my song. And I am here to tell you that everything amazing and wonderful in my life started the day I came to Cooley. And I did have the opportunity of a lifetime, and my friends, so do you!!
And I am going to bet that you have a similar story to mine about getting here. Maybe this wasn’t the school you originally picked out, maybe you never heard of Lansing, Michigan, maybe going to law school was something you decided to do because you lost a bet or got turned down at med school. Why you got here doesn’t matter so much right now as the fact that you WERE here and ARE here now. Trace those steps and stops and starts, and the twists and the turns. Follow that road map that brought you here, one step at a time, and see if you don’t believe, like I do, that it was a miracle.
There is always, always room for one more good lawyer in the world. So get out there, spread your star dust, and welcome to your miraculous life. As my friend Bob Marley said : ‘And don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright!’
Catherine Groll is a trial attorney with The Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in the State of Michigan. She has practiced as a litigator for 22 years and taught at WMU-Cooley as an adjunct professor for 12 years, receiving the Frederick J. Griffith III Adjunct Faculty Award for excellence in teaching in 2010. She also received the Camille S. Abood Distinguished Volunteer Award in 2012. In 2013, she taught the first Tort Law class at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Cambodia, and taught evidence law and critical thinking to new judges.