Panetta at 2017 SCU Law commencement

Panetta at 2017 SCU Law commencement

A Trumpet Call to Defend the Rule of Law

Democracy requires its lawyers and its citizens to fight for its traditions and laws, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63 tells 2017 SCU law graduates.


Democracy requires its lawyers and its citizens to fight for its traditions and laws, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63 tells 2017 SCU law graduates.


Saying our nation is “at a crossroads,” former United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63 told the Santa Clara University School of Law Class of 2017 that democracy will mean nothing if Americans aren’t willing to fight for the rule of law.

Panetta addressed the more than 180 graduates and their family and friends at Santa Clara Law’s commencement ceremony, which began at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the Mission Gardens.

He said America could go one of two ways: an “America in renaissance”—building on our technological and defense leadership—or “America in decline,” careening from crisis to crisis amid eroding trust in democratic institutions due to fears, prejudices, and political attacks.

“The story of the last election was the story of lost trust, angry voters who felt that no one in Washington, no political party, was working to deal with the problems they were facing,” he said.

He said such divisions are surmountable, but “you cannot be a good leader or a good citizen if you do not respect our Constitution and the institutions responsible for enforcing the requirements of that sacred document.”

Panetta is the son of immigrants, and he told of how his parents traveled thousands of miles to give their children a better life. “We are a nation that builds bridges, not walls,” he said. “And most of all, we need to respect the truth.”

He told a story of when he was CIA director and met the families of seven CIA employees killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2009. He said he gave each family a plaque with a biblical verse from Isaiah: “Whom shall I send? ... Here I am Lord. Send me.”

“That, ladies and gentlemen,” said Panetta, “is the sound of the trumpet that must summon all of us to action.”

Panetta’s 50-year career included two years each as Secretary of Defense and CIA director, as well as eight terms in Congress. He is currently chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit study center seeking to attract thoughtful men and women to lives of public service and prepare them for the policy challenges of the future.

During his speech, Panetta said law students who work with the Panetta Institute learn “what it takes to find consensus on issues, which is heart and soul of the legislative processs, and frankly has become a lost art in Washington.”

Panetta was a member of the University’s ROTC program while at SCU, and he later taught a political science course in the College of Arts and Sciences for years, and served on SCU’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 2009.

Of the 181 graduates receiving J.D. or LL.M. degrees, 35 received certificates in various areas of high-tech law; another 13 received certificates in public-interest and social-justice law; four specialized in international law and three in privacy law.

Among the awards for outstanding graduates, celebrated the evening before commencement, student Jenna Bailey received the Inez Mabie Award for the Outstanding Graduate based on academic performance, scholarly activities, leadership, and service roles at the law school and in the community. Ariel Siner received the 2017 American Law Institute award for outstanding scholarship and leadership. Carlos Barba received the Dean’s Outstanding Student Leadership Award for exemplifying the school’s motto of “lawyers who lead” and serving other students, the school, and community. Brish Miller won the inaugural John B. Bates Jr. Dispute Resolution Award for coursework, publications, performance, and service related to the field of dispute resolution.


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Photo by Charles Barry