Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

Cohen-Mays Encourages Fellow Graduates to "Embrace the Future"

At Southwestern's 95th Commencement Ceremony held on Sunday, May 16, 2010, Ms. Leah Cohen-Mays presented the Student Address on behalf of her fellow graduates. She was chosen for the honor by the Commencement Committee based on the substance and delivery of her speech, her ability to represent the class, and her co-curricular involvement and accomplishments during law school.

by Leah Cohen-Mays

Good Morning Class of 2010. We Did It! We have successfully completed the 87 credits necessary to earn our Juris Doctor degree without losing our minds. Congratulations!

As we celebrate the end of this amazing and challenging journey, I am reminded of something my professor said to my class during our first week of law school. She said, "Embrace your future." This is a phrase that has stuck with me throughout my law school career. But, it has never meant as much as it does right now, because now it's time for action — that "future" is here. 

Think about it — it wasn't so long ago that many of us finished our last law school exam. Think about how you felt when the proctor yelled, "Time!" And you turned in your last blue book or uploaded your last Examsoft file, packed up your belongings, posted that requisite message on Facebook that you were officially done with law school, logically inquired about where the party would be, and walked out of your last law school class ... ever!

There was a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a sense of relief because at that moment, there were no more credits for you to earn. Gone were the anxiety-filled holidays where you religiously checked WebAdvisor to see if your professor posted your grades because your family and friends insisted on asking you every two and a half minutes, "How did you do? Did you get your grades back yet?" No more pounds gained from drinking Red Bulls, Full Throttles or whatever-a-ccinos just to stay awake. No more pounds lost from the stress of it all. No more missing birthdays or road trips or impromptu parties because you had to study, write a paper or prepare for a competition.

No more. At that moment it was clear that your law school career had finally come to an end. And, that's a great moment where the future seems lovable, fuzzy and warm and oh-so-easy to embrace.

But, then there is that next moment — where reality kicks in, shortly followed by panic, maybe some cold sweats. The moment when you realize that life as you have known it for the past few years is about to drastically change. And all of a sudden, the future isn't so embraceable anymore.

No more security of money being handed to you each semester from a scholarship or student loan. No more "free Fridays" or regularly scheduled lunches from 12:15 to 2:00 p.m. No more "I'm in law school" excuses as to why you can't do one thing or another. No more bar reviews, Barrister's Ball or Honor's Proms. No more Christmas break, Spring break, Summer break — no more breaks. Nope, now it's time for the Bar. And, real jobs. Now it's time to face the reality that the economy isn't the best, but Access Group, Sallie Mae and the Federal Government still want their money.

This feeling of uncertainty, that's often associated with change, can be overwhelming. But, it doesn't have to be, because this change — this transition from law student to legal professional — is one that we have been well prepared for.

Southwestern has given each of us every opportunity to be the best at our profession — from our LAWS programs, to our Honors programs, externships and scholarships, brilliant and supportive professors, interesting courses — both here and abroad — involved alumni and impressive community connections. Southwestern has given us all of that.

But, more importantly, Southwestern has equipped us with a very powerful, valuable skill. Remember the first day of law school when some professor told your class, "I am here to teach you to think like a lawyer." I don't know about you but, I had no idea what that meant. And, I always thought, how does a lawyer think as opposed to the rest of the world? And, given the fact that a lot of people really don't like lawyers, do we really want to think like one of them?

It wasn't until a few months ago that I actually realized what it meant to "think like a lawyer." Oddly enough, it was when I heard someone tell a lawyer joke. It was about a man who asked several people what two plus two was. First, he asked a doctor. And the doctor said, "Two plus two is four. And, I didn't need 7+ years of medical school to figure that out." Then, he asked a teacher. And the teacher said, "It's four, and I'm concerned about what educational system you were brought up in." Then, the man asked a little kid, and the kid said, "It's four. Duh!" Finally, the man asked an attorney: "Counselor, what is 2 + 2?" The attorney said, "Well, what do you want it to be?"

Southwestern has armed us with the ability to make someone question something they have known to be true pretty much their entire lives! That is power. The power to step away from a situation and see both sides of the argument so clearly that we can effectively advocate for either side as if it were the only correct side. And, whether we know it or not, we all think this way now. And, if you don't believe me, just ask anyone on the other side of an argument with you.

Not only has our school prepared us for our future, but we've prepared ourselves. Think about how much you sacrificed to make it here today. Along the way we lost relationships, quality time with family and friends, at times our health, sleep, some of us even lost some hair. Despite all of that, we pressed through and made it to this moment.

Overcoming obstacles and sacrificing all that we have has prepared us by making us stronger, more resilient and more resourceful.  It's easy to forget all that we've overcome because we've gotten into the rhythm of law school. At one point the experience of law school was new to us, but we figured it out. So, we should rest assured knowing that no matter what challenge our future brings, we can get through it. We'll figure it out, because we've done it before.

Therefore, as we say goodbye to our career as law students, we can allow the panic often associated with change to subside and embrace this change because, we survived law school — we can make it through anything. Not only that, but Southwestern has provided us with all the tools we need to succeed — legal knowledge, rich experience, tremendous support and that powerful, magical ability to think like a lawyer.

So, to the class of 2010 , let's embrace our future with confidence, regardless of the circumstances we may face. And, as we move forward in our legal careers, let us make sure our actions always bring integrity to this profession, positive recognition to our school, and a sense of pride to our professors, friends and family who saw us through this often challenging experience of law school. Which, officially ends today. And, our Future is here! Embrace it! Congratulations!

Leah Cohen-Mays received her Bachelor of Science degree from Hampton University where she majored in Biology. During her time at Southwestern, she participated in numerous student organizations including the Student Ambassador Program, the Black Law Students Association, the Christian Legal Society, and The Commentator. She was a member of the Moot Court Board of Governors and an award-winning oralist for two Moot Court teams. Ms. Cohen-Mays was active in the Public Interest Law Society where she created successful fundraising events and increased participation in activities. She also serves as a volunteer for the Neil Bogart Pediatric Foundation, the Children's Law Center, Teen Court, the CLEO Scholars Program, and the Langston Bar Association Youth Outreach and Mediation Program.