Gene Nichol


I am much honored to be here, in such remarkable company. By my lights, the folks in this room represent the best of the legal academy; those who think, stunningly, that the real world, outside campus walls, actually matters; those who, every day, live out Václav Havel’s definition of hope. Havel thought of hope not as a prediction of success or a description of the world around us but as a conscious choice to live in the belief that we can make a difference in the quality of our shared, and sometimes threatened, lives. When you think about it, the nobler of contested hypotheses. It is an honor to walk among you. As we come together, undoubtedly the world is in flux. A ceremony marking Justice Scalia’s passing is being held, this morning, at the Supreme Court. The Pope, yesterday, called out an American presidential candidate over his disparagement of the immigrant and the stranger. Here, hundreds of legal academics and students gather to explore what law schools largely ignore—the crushing impact of poverty. And, perhaps most surprising of all, we have journeyed across the country to Seattle and it is raining. I have an important topic to consider: academics and activism. It is controversial perhaps. That is risky, of course; there is always the possibility of annoying folks. But, to be honest, I am glad to have an important topic. For most of the last thirty years, I have been either a law school dean or a university president. I was surprised during those long tenures how often deans, and especially presidents, were called upon not to talk about important matters but to give what I came to think of as “warm and mindless remarks.”