Attorney of the Year, Lifetime Achievement and Lawyer on the Fast Track Awards
Keynote Address of Frank P. Cervone, Executive Director, Support Center for Child Advocates
Thank you Hank. We congratulate Legal Editor Hank Grezlak for his recent promotion, announced today in The Legal. His reach has grown tremendously, clearly a sign that SOMEONE in American Lawyer Media likes him! As reported today, “Hank Grezlak’s role with ALM as Regional Editor-in-Chief for the Northeast—including The Legal Intelligencer—has been expanded to include oversight of all regional ALM brands including the New York Law Journal, The Recorder, Texas Lawyer, Daily Report and the Daily Business Review … and Sesame Street, The National Enquirer, Saturday Night Live and All Twitter feeds everywhere.” Talk about Fast Track!!
Seriously, The Legal has been a tremendous partner of the public interest law community, and a friend of Child Advocates, promoting our events and helping us to invite others to the work. More importantly The Legal Intelligencer remains a vital element of Pennsylvania’s Fourth Estate, speaking truth to power, pressing for and creating accountability in our legal institutions. All of the journalists and leaders involved in ALM and The Legal Intelligencer – please let’s recognize these fine colleagues!
My wife and I had occasion a few weeks back to see a traveling professional production of The Man of La Mancha at a lovely theatre in Bristol, Bucks County. I found the experience relevant in many ways to our gathering tonight. I’ll admit to a long-held affection for the characters.
You may recall the story, first published more than 400 years ago: A Spanish nobleman reads so many whimsical, chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out on a QUEST to revive chivalry and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. As he surveils about the earth SEARCHING for causes to champion and wrongs to undue, his VISION is captured in one particular exchange with his squire, the erstwhile farmer Sancho Panza:
“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” asked Sancho.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho meekly, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously, my friend,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
Yes this is a room for adventures and adventurers. I don’t mean to suggest that our Honorees are all AS insane as Quixote! Though when you think of tilting at windmills, the practice of law in the public interest comes to mind. Confreres like Carol Tracy, Mary Catherine Roper, Sam Milkes, Will Gonzales, Marsha Levick and Lynn Marks — all have been known to DO BATTLE WITH GIANTS on the horizon! We can recognize as well the great fights for social justice waged by heroes like Mark Aronchick, Alan Epstein, David Rudovsky, Prince Thomas and Denise Smyler. Nobel, righteous warriors indeed!
Speaking of The Almighty, I am reminded of a prayer which I’d like to share:
Dear Lord. You took away my favorite singer, the incomparable Prince.
Then you took my favorite humanitarian, The Greatest, Muhammed Ali.
Then, Good Lord, you took my favorite athlete, that class act, Gordie Howe.
Lord … did I tell you my favorite politician is DONALD TRUMP?
Seems like the requisite Donald Trump joke! Every gathering of two or more persons these days must invoke his name in some way.
I think the story of Don Quixote, and the slate of lawyers we honor tonight for their Lifetimes of Achievement, and our impressive roster of Lawyers on the Fast Track. They invite us to consider our pasts and our futures. In turn, the images suggest an important juxtaposition of the person and their achievements: I’m thinking of the intersection of who I am and what I do.
When someone asks you: What do you do?
Don’t you often respond, well you lawyers anyway, “I’m a lawyer.”
You look down this list of Lifetime Honorees, and then you open their bios, as I have had occasion to do this week, and what they have done is SO impressive. If the question is WHO AM I? It’s as if the TOTALLY RIGHT answer is: “I’m a lawyer.”
This is itself interesting, even controversial to some. We are not defined by our work, some would say. I think we ARE! Perhaps not exclusively. Certainly not that this or that profession makes one person’s more important nor that it makes that person a BETTER person. But it is in our work, and in the way we engage the world through our work, that we find our meaning.
I’m thinking here of lawyers who “fight for others”. They are Champions for justice. They right the world’s wrongs: Shanin Specter. Sol Weiss. Tom Bergstrom. Carol Tracy. Laura Ellsworth. Peter Vaira. Nitza Quiṅones Alejandro. David Hickton. Debbie Weinstein. Mary Catherine Roper. When these people say, I’m a lawyer, I know what that means!
It is in these times of reflection about one’s life, as lived and as coming, that we ask “Who ARE you?”, that a lifetime of achievement is a cause of celebration. Think of the Giants in the profession who are among us tonight: Dan Booker. Sam Douglass. Dan O’Donnell. Joe Jacovini. Dianne Nast. Prince Thomas. Freddie Massiah-Jackson.
Then there are those who just make me feel great about BEING a lawyer: Dennis Suplee. Dan Booker. Steve Harmelin. Howard Meyers.
Of course these heroes we salute tonight are not JUST lawyers. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grands and uncles and aunts.
They are volunteers in courts, and in soup kitchens, founders of shelters, Board Members of community groups. Leaders of scout troops. Little League coaches. Mentors of the young.
They are gardeners, and fishers, and sailors, runners and card sharks and squash players. When we ask WHO ARE YOU? We are really asking, “What makes you happy?” “What makes you feel whole?” Knowing many of these Honorees personally, they are all at least as impressive for what they have DONE IN LIFE as anything they have done in the law!
If you would please indulge me one more Cervantes reference: Don Quixote was named the Knight of the Woeful Countenance. To engage all that is troubling in the world – would surely leave a person with a frown. And yet, for so many of our Honorees tonight and in particular the Young Lawyers on the Fast Track, their countenance is not woeful, but wonderful! They take delight in service, and in their colleagues and their collegiality, and in the profession.
At the risk of total embarrassment, I will call out my colleague Lindsey Alexander from the Support Center for Child Advocates. Despite a most challenging specialization, of working with a population of medically needy children involved with the child welfare system, indeed with a daily diet of child abuse, who always has a smile on the face, and smile in her heart. We have had occasion to interact with others on this list, and again, no long faces here … ever!
For hundreds of years, poets like Cervantes have been trying to capture what clearly must be a shared, even common, human experience of longing to make a difference. To improve the world. To reach the unreachable stars. AND THE WORLD WILL BE BETTER FOR THIS. And in a sense we PRAY, to find in those activities something about ourselves.
What we know of good people is that they find themselves doing good things, and of course others find them doing good things as well.
So thank you, and honor to you, our noble warriors for justice. Reach on, for those unreachable stars. Thank you.
* * * * * * *
For more information (after 7/1/16):
Frank P. Cervone, Executive Director
Support Center for Child Advocates
1617 John F. Kennedy Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19103
t: (267) 546-9202 f: (267) 546-9201