Bob Fitzsimmons Bestowed Honorary Degree from WVU College of Law
It was a great day to be a Mountaineer as Bob Fitzsimmons was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the West Virginia University College of Law at its recent graduation ceremony. The university annually honors selected individuals whose outstanding contributions it believes are important to West Virginia University, to the people of the State of West Virginia, or to the nation. These individuals have also achieved the highest standards of excellence and illuminate, advance, ease, and inspire the human condition according to WVU.
Bob was extremely honored and humbled to address the WVU College of Law Class of 2019 during their commencement. In his speech, Bob spoke about what it means to be a lawyer.
Below is a transcript of the speech:
Good Morning – I’d like to first thank President Gee, Dean Bowman, our Administration, Faculty, the Board of Governors and especially the Chairman and my close friend, Bill Wilmoth, for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful University and today’s ceremony.
I want to congratulate the Honorable Irene Keeley for her well-deserved honor. Judge Keeley has had a distinguished career as a Federal Judge but more importantly, she has demonstrated her commitment and devotion to WVU through her numerous volunteer positions and assignments. Congratulations Judge.
It is a great honor and humbling to receive this honorary degree from the West Virginia University College of Law, but it is even a greater honor to be able to share with all of you a few minutes about what being a lawyer means and how it will shape your lives, your families, your clients and your communities.
You are now a member of the greatest profession on earth. I have been practicing law for 41 years – full time and I wouldn’t trade it for any other profession. As a lawyer, you will have incredible power that has the potential to change the lives of others, the conduct of business or the ways of our governments. Every lawyer has these same powers – we are the protectors of the people, we advocate positions for clients, we defend them when accused of wrongful conduct and we attempt to make them whole after sustaining life altering losses, we serve as their spokesperson, we counsel and advise them during good times and bad, and we protect those who cannot protect themselves.
We as lawyers are one of the few professions or occupations that swears that “we will support the Constitutions of the United States and West Virginia” as part of our daily job duties. We are afforded a sacred privilege that protects all communications between us and our clients called the attorney-client privilege which cannot be pierced by anyone unless it has been done in furtherance of a crime.
We are one of 3 professions identified in the Constitution with the military and the media, and our founders decided that anyone accused of a crime had the constitutional right to be represented by one of us.
We are the problem solvers of the world. We are the sin eaters. We assume, and at times, consume the problems of others. We make them ours and then we attempt to correct them as best as possible.
Attorney John W. Davis was born and raised in West Virginia (1873-1955). He argued over 140 cases before the United States Supreme Court and ran and lost as a candidate for President of the United States against Calvin Coolidge. Attorney Davis was quoted as saying:
“True, we lawyers build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures . . . There is little of all that we do which the eye of man can see. But we smooth out difficulties; we correct mistakes; we take up other men’s burdens and by our efforts, we make possible the peaceful life of men in a peaceful state.”
When we hear news that someone is being investigated, charged or accused, the individuals typically “lawyer-up” so we can take over someone else’s battle. Yes, we hold your hand during successes and failures, we listen to your problems no matter how embarrassing or repugnant and yes, we will be that person who is always with you in time of need.
Law School Graduates: You are now one of us – active members of the most noble profession in the world. Be proud of your profession - protect it and defend it.
In just the past 20 years, we participated in major life-changing legal decisions. For example, in 2000 we ruled on voting laws that decided the Presidency of the United States. In 2010, we allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts in elections called dark money. And in 2015, same sex marriage was declared legal.
During your careers you, as a lawyer, will tackle some of society’s most perplexing and divisive issues: can we grow and harvest human organs? Will we allow cloning of humans? Will a cloned person inherit and if so from whom? How will social media change the laws of privacy? What will our immigration laws be? You will not only be living life as a Lawyer, but each of you will be helping to regulate, structure and direct our very existence.
I want to welcome you, the Class of 2019, to the most honorable and versatile of all professions – Attorney and Counselor-at-Law. May you be wise, brave, strong, inspirational and consistent throughout your career and may God Bless You.