Harvard Law Dean Manning urges ‘historic’ Class of 2022 to ‘bring about the change you desire’

Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85 urged the 833 graduating J.D., LL.M, and S.J.D. students gathered on Holmes field Thursday to use their power as Harvard lawyers “to make our world better, more compassionate, more equal, more just, more ethical, and more united.”

“I sometimes wonder if it is possible to know, in real time, that we’re part of a historic moment – or that a particular class is a historic class,” said Manning, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law. “For the Class of 2022, there is no doubt. This is a class forged by a cruel pandemic that has claimed millions of lives worldwide and remains untamed to this day. You experienced law school very differently from those who came before you and, I hope, very differently from those who will come after.”

You, the Class of 2022, plunged headlong into the crises our world has served up. … You showed up to defend the marginalized, the vulnerable, those who would not otherwise have been able to have a lawyer, and who needed someone on their side to ensure that they received justice.

Given that experience, Manning told the graduates, “you have shown yourself, and the world, that you are people of exceptional grit, resolve, purpose, empathy, and generosity. It is who you are; it is what got you here in the first place; and it is what will make you great lawyers and leaders in the years ahead.”

Even with all of the headwinds and obstacles, he stressed, the new graduates had continued to learn, to build community, and to serve others, logging more than 378,000 total hours of pro bono work during their time in law school. “You, the Class of 2022, plunged headlong into the crises our world has served up. … You showed up to defend the marginalized, the vulnerable, those who would not otherwise have been able to have a lawyer, and who needed someone on their side to ensure that they received justice.”

In addition to the coronavirus, Manning noted that the Class of 2022 had gone to law school during a period of numerous other cataclysms, ranging from the murder of George Floyd two years earlier to the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. “In just the past two weeks,” he added, “you’ve witnessed Buffalo, Laguna Woods, and now Uvalde. People killed shopping for food, practicing their faith. And now children learning in school.”

“Times like these can feel overwhelming,” Manning said. Drawing the idea of “making meaning” – a concept from the psychology of distress tolerance – Manning suggested “that when times are very bad, when things feel at their worst, you should try to bring about some sort of change, improvement, reform, repair – to try make something good come out of the bad things you’re dealing with.” Manning acknowledged that it “feels hard . . . to think of how to move forward in the face of tragedies so profound, so painful, and so raw,” but that “we must” if we are to make progress. And he urged the graduating class to use the tools and skills they have acquired at Harvard Law School “to help repair a world badly in need of repair.”

Manning concluded on a note of encouragement, wishing the graduates well: “My wish for you, as you embark on this journey, is that you will take risks, that you will follow your heart’s desire, that you will be unafraid to fail and unashamed if you do, that you will speak up always for what you believe in, and that you will always carry with you the spirit and determination you brought to Harvard Law School.”