Wessel: Make Imperfect World Better as Lawyers

Attorney Madelyn Wessel
Attorney Madelyn Wessel

May 16, 2019
Jeff Bunch

Madelyn F. Wessel told the Gonzaga School of Law Class of 2019 that they are heading out on an uncertain road, but provided them with encouragement and guideposts to follow along the way. 

Wessel is the recipient of numerous awards for public service and contributions to the legal profession. She is a distinguished scholar and author who currently serves as the University Counsel at Cornell University. 

Wessel acknowledged that the graduates are "entering the legal profession at a time of instability and uncertainty. The world we are living in today seems fraught with turmoil...," but tempered it with:  

Our world definitely ain’t perfect, but, it is far less frightening and worrisome because you are in it, because what you can do will matter. And because the passion and excellence of your minds and your craft as lawyers is powerful.  While our world may be torn and a bit tattered, we lawyers can make a difference, we lawyers do make a difference, and we are counting on all of you to help make this imperfect world better as you leave Gonzaga and move on.

She then recommend four principles to sustain the graduates:

  • Don’t forget to find the joy. "No matter how busy you are, no matter how stressed you are, no matter how much debt you may be in, or how hard you think it might be to achieve specific career goals… you simply have to stop long enough to find your joys in life. Don’t put off looking for them until tomorrow, until “after” you’ve fixed all those other problems or achieved all those other goals. Do it now." 
  • Cherish your mentors. "Having the benefit of wisdom and experience through a mentor is an incalculable benefit as you move forward into your careers. And mentors often bring something rare along with that—the capacity for dispassionate advice.... Mentors look at us in different ways, and sometimes give us sound knocks on the head that are really important!  Make sure you create opportunities for this, and listen when those caring knocks come."
  • Place some trust in chance because happy accidents happen, sometimes after failures. "(D)on’t assume my work has always been fulfilling. Along the path, there have been stretches that exemplified today’s theme of it ain’t perfect.  Some years were actually downright miserable. That could happen to you. But… you persevere, you grow, you tough it out, you learn some new things, you make it work, and this is the really important thing — you trust a bit to chance." 
  • Set your moral compass straight to do the right thing. As you move into your careers there will be many different ways to do the right thing, to act with integrity, with an eye towards the common good, something our country and our world needs rather desperately right now. Some of you may chose a path that involves fearful perils and tremendous economic sacrifices in your work domestically or abroad.   We can only have profound respect and gratitude towards those with the courage to make such choices."

In closing, she admitted "Our world ain’t perfect, but ... You can make our world better, in a myriad of ways, and in your own ways. It may help your path along the way if you cherish your joys and your mentors; if you are brave enough to embrace chance; and whatever path you follow, if you take care to set your moral compass straight."

DeForrest Receives Law Medal

Professor Emeritus DeForrest was recognized posthumously for his distinguished legacy at the Gonzaga School of Law, as a student, Thomas More Scholar, and faculty who initiated the ground-breaking Legal Research and Writing program.