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AS A PROFESSION
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN OF THE GRADUATING CLASS, I hope that, in presenting myself before you without the usual preparation of a written address, I may not be thought to have undervalued the services of this day, or the compliment of being invited to take part in them. I assure you that I have not underestimated either. An occasion like this—the farewell festival of the departing-touches the sensibilities of all thoughtful minds. I should be sorry if it failed to reach mine. If eloquence or fine learning were at my command, I should esteem few occasions for their employment more appropriate or more attractive than this. But it is to you, gentlemen of the graduating class, that I came to speak, not to the audience by which you are surrounded, or the distinguished guests who grace your festival with their presence. And while I can bring you no flowersnot even the humble flowers of the mountains—to add to the garlands of the hour, perhaps I can offer you something more useful and more durable than flowers -the suggestions of experience.
Your feet are on the threshold of the profession in which I have spent all the active days of my life-one of the noblest of the secular professions, in its best
estate; one that has been well characterized as being "as honorable as justice, as ancient as the forms of law”; a profession in which you are probably destined to achieve whatever of success in this world of any sort you attain; one that is infinite in its gradations, covering the whole world-wide distance between the jurist and the pettifogger. And it is the question, to you, not of the hour only, but of the lifetime, which way are you going when you leave the institution, by the instruction of which you have apparently so well profited ? By what star, in a sky which is so full of stars, do you propose to steer, in that long and unreturning voyage on which, from zone to zone, and from shore to shore, you will have to direct your own course across a pathless sea? I desire, therefore, in the plainest and simplest way, without rhetoric or ornament, to ask your attention to a consideration, of necessity hasty, of some of the conditions of success in the profession of the law.
I had thought, when I came here, of saying a word or two at the outset upon what may be called “adaptations of the profession.” It is by no means necessarily a disparagement to any man to say that he has not in him the making of a great lawyer. He may be equally great, or much greater, in some other capacity. Professional adaptation is rather peculiar than great. But after what I have learned from my fri
friends in charge of this school, and certainly after what I have heard in the admirable essay that has been read to us, in part, if that is to be taken as any fair specimen of your attainments, I may omit that branch of the subject. I am sure that on that point the "court will be with me” without argument, and that there is no gentleman before me who is about to commit the mistake of adventuring himself upon a route for which divine Providence has not provided him with a ticket.
But another of what may be called the commonplace requisites-so many important things in this world are commonplace - another commonplace requisite to professional success, let me name in passing, and that is perseverance. There is no profession that in its earlier stages better illustrates the idea of “hope deferred.” It will seem to you, for a while, as though the time never would come when you are going to be wanted; the field is so full of older and better men; the best that you can do seems so little; other vocations, presenting better immediate prospects, will open in every direction around you. It seems a great while to wait, and very uncertain what you are waiting for. Now, there comes in the sentiment that one of your Boston poets has put into words better than mine:
“The surest, firmest element of luck
The pluck that can wait as well as labor; that can stay as well as fight.
The man who succeeds, other things being equal, is the man who "sticks"; and the man who "sticks" is very likely to be the man who is qualified to succeed. Your time will certainly come, if you live. Every man's weight, in this profession, and probably in others, comes some time or other to be accurately known. The opportunity to take a high place is certainly going to be given to you, if your life is spared. It is not so material, therefore, how soon it is coming, as whether you will be ready to meet it when it does