My Law School Reunion – “Live Each Day to the Fullest”

I spent last weekend with my Santa Clara University law school classmates for our 30th reunion.  As a group, we’re a little older, a little grayer (or balder), a little heavier, and a little wiser than the last time we met for our 25th.   As is common for me after such events, I needed to come home and process all I saw and heard, and re-orient my brain around the new realities.  John Smith is now bald!  Sam Lee gained thirty pounds!  Terry Jones has been divorced three times!  Pat Johnson left the law firm and opened a winery! And sadly, we mourned the deaths of both students and faculty.

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A picture of me at my graduation from law school in 1983

Having been officially retired for an entire three weeks by the time of the reunion, I came with perhaps a different perspective this time.   I wasn’t so much into the professional networking and career advice.  I was more interested in learning about what has been meaningful in people’s lives and what activities they are passionate about.

On Friday at the first event (a portrait unveiling) I sat next to my former Criminal Law professor, who completely intimidated me as a first-year law student.  She is still teaching but in the process of phased retirement.  Once I got over the long-ingrained terror of being in her presence, we had a lovely chat about my career and hers, my retirement and hers, Paris and the theatre.  We furtively exchanged notes during the portrait ceremony and I even slipped her my blog address (she thought the blog was a splendid idea).  It was gratifying to hear from her and other professors that they have a genuine contentment and personal satisfaction with teaching.  It is remarkable how many professors from my student days are still there and that is a credit to the law school.

The second day I met the new Dean of the law school,  who is the first female Dean.  She was a bundle of energy and warmth.  I shared my memories of my law school experience as well as a 3-minute recap of my career, specialty area and retirement status, and she immediately suggested two or three activities that I could do in connection with the law school and that all sounded frankly interesting.   Some involved mentoring, others developing programs in my subject matter expertise area.  In her prepared remarks, she gave a “state of the law school” and shared that class size is down as prospective students are more critically looking at the cost of a law school education (the class of 2013 was averaging about $120K in debt) and deciding that the end result is not worth it.  Partnered with the fact that the law school has a strong mission toward training lawyers who will give back to the community and not just look to the financial rewards of the profession.  The former Dean therefore kicked in a record amount of financial aid in order to attract a quality incoming class.

Prior to dinner on Saturday night, the keynote speaker was Leon Panetta, a 1963 law school graduate, who was attending his own 50th reunion, I have met Mr Panetta in the past (I bumped into him on the way to fetch another cocktail at my 25th reunion), followed his career, and have the utmost respect for him.  He has served as U.S. Congressman, White House Chief of Staff, Director of OMB and Director of the CIA. Most recently, he was the Secretary of Defense (and thus my son’s boss!) under President Obama.  He and his wife Sylvia established the Panetta Institute for Public Policy in Monterey. At our event, he spoke candidly on a wide range of topics, including the state of Washington, DC and the crisis in Syria.

Mr. Panetta’s personal testimony is what I found most compelling.  He is the son of poor Italian immigrants.  His father owned a small restaurant in Monterey.  Mr. Panetta worked hard and embodied the American Dream while staying true to his principles.  His life work was one of service to our country.  His charge to himself was and is to live each day to the fullest and to make the most of his God-given talents and skills to make a difference in the world.  He observed that our country is at a critical juncture at a time where we have a crisis in leadership. He pointed out that each day the men and women of our military put their lives on the line to serve our country and their families often pay the ultimate sacrifice.   His charge to us was to also give back, and that we too should feel an obligation to our communities and to use our legal training to effect positive change.

My weekend thus far had reminded me that whatever I decide to do next, my activities need to include at least some that are larger than myself, that will work toward change in the world.  My Crim Law professor observed that many of the retirees she knew tended to limit their world to their immediate families after retirement.  I want to challenge myself to expand my world.  I have committed to not commit for a year…but I am starting a list of ideas for ways I can serve that will best use my skills and interests. And things that will bring me a sense of satisfaction and contentment.

Of course, then it was time for the wine reception and class dinner, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.   What has our class been doing…and how have we served our world?  There were some cautionary tales (divorces, alcohol, early death) to be told along with endearing tales of friendship.  But mainly that’s where we reconnected and renewed our relationships,  re-lived the old days, drank a little too much,  laughed at ourselves and had great fun. But I’ll save that for another post……

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