oday's lawyers have tremendous influence over modern society and must use that power in the pursuit of social justice, said Patricio M. Serna, chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, in his May 26 commencement address to the Catholic University of America's School of Law graduates.
"Believe me, lawyers have a profound impact on American society, dominate many powerful political bodies in the United States and have in their hands the destiny of America," said Serna, who became the nation's only Latino chief justice when he was named to the post on Jan. 5, 2001. "Therefore, you as lawyers must be visionaries in our society and work toward the goals of social good and equal justice for all."
The 112th commencement of the School of Law was held in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the CUA campus. Degrees were conferred on 283 graduates. During the ceremony, Serna received the President's Medal, the university's highest honor. The medal recognizes those people who, by the content of their character and the witness of their lives, share the vision and exemplify the ideals of the university.
Prior to his election to New Mexico's highest court in 1996, Chief Justice Serna served as a district judge for 11 years, the last two as chief judge. He also has served as assistant attorney general of New Mexico, special assistant to Commissioner Raymond Telles of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and adjunct professor at the CUA School of Law.
The justice's rise to his native state's highest judicial position embodies the realization of the "American Dream." He was not yet 2 years old when his mother died, leaving behind eight children for his father to raise. A laborer with a third-grade education, Serna's father raised the children in a three-room log cabin in Reserve, N.M. During most of Serna's childhood, the house had no plumbing or electricity. Without the help and encouragement of a local priest, Serna would not have attended college. The priest made arrangements for him to attend the College of Saint Joseph (now the University of Albuquerque), where he was offered a scholarship, a job and a cot in a boiler room.
Serna received his undergraduate degree and eventually went on to receive his juris doctor degree from the University of Denver College of Law and a master of laws degree from Harvard Law School.
"I ask that you use your strength of character, your knowledge and acumen, in the pursuit of justice," Serna told the assembled crowd of approximately 2,200 School of Law graduates, family, friends and other well-wishers.
"Today you are entrusted with the knowledge and tools of a profession that can save children from suffering abuse and neglect, aid families in crisis, assist the elderly and infirm, and guide businesses and governments in making informed and humane decisions," Serna said. "There are many in the legal profession who have chosen to use those tools in pursuit of personal gain and glory. I challenge you to join those who are truly lawyers, truly advocates, truly counselors. Those whose professional choices are guided by their hearts, their conviction and their commitment to the great potential for good that is the essence of the human spirit."
"I ask you to build your reputation upon the sure foundation of integrity, courage, self-confidence, accomplishment, deep faith, character and loyalty - that is the spirit of Catholic University's Columbus School of Law. Hold on to that spirit," Serna advised. "Honor your ideals, your beliefs and your dreams. Reach out and help the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised - pursue public service and encourage diversity and inclusiveness - because if not Catholic University and its graduates, then who? And if not now, when?"