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Student Spotlight

Convocation 2010

President Obama’s senior adviser challenges graduates to find their purpose and passion.

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Valerie JarrettFrom the inner circle of a history-making White House, Valerie Jarrett came to Madison Square Garden on May 14 to tell more than 1,000 members of the Class of 2010 that they will encounter uncertainty and setbacks, but “if you lean in and tackle adversity with creativity and innovation…you will have the potential to create an insurmountable force to help lead our country to a brighter day.” Interweaving the personal and the political, Jarrett chronicled her own “circuitous career,” which took her from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981 to her current position as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement.

Jarrett made a distinction between success and its glittery trappings on one hand, and fulfillment and a sense of purpose on the other. She steered her audience toward the latter, describing her early career at a Chicago law firm to illustrate the difference. “I came in early, and I stayed late. I did everything I thought I should do with my hard-earned law degree,” she recounted. “And within six years, I had also married, given birth to my darling daughter, and divorced.” Then, Jarrett said, she reached a turning point: “One day, while I was sitting in my lovely office on the 79th floor of the Sears Tower, looking out my window at an extraordinary view of Lake Michigan, I began to cry.” Realizing that she had been pursuing what she thought she should do, “not what gave me fulfillment or purpose,” Jarrett struck out in a different direction that would take her into government, notably as deputy chief of staff to Chicago mayor Richard Daley, and business, as president and CEO of the Habitat Company, a private residential property manager in Chicago. “You must care deeply about what you do, or you will not have the endurance to sustain your effort or achieve your goals—and you will certainly not be able to lead by instilling passion in others,” she said. Jarrett also told the newly minted grads that while her career veered from the practice of law, having a law degree gave her “the confidence to know that…I had a safety net.”

The buoyant ceremonies were tempered by the terrible loss of two members of the graduating class who were honored during the ceremonies. Lucas Johnson died on April 30 after a valiant battle with cancer; Mattei Radu passed away on May 7 due to complications from asthma and a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Their classmates dedicated the Class of 2010 Graduation Gift to them. Totaling more than $100,000, it was presented by Sabrina Ursaner ’10 and Aleksandra Krawcewicz (LL.M. ’10). In addition, Johnson, who had completed five semesters, was declared an honorary member of the Class of 2010. Luc Radu accepted an LL.M. degree on his brother’s behalf.

Before the graduates filed out, Dean Richard Revesz encouraged them to maintain their connections and rely on one another as they join a global community of 40,000 NYU School of Law alumni: “Know that the door is always open back at Washington Square.”

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