Commencement Speech by U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley '86
Saint Mary’s College of California
May 25, 2013
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. At the outset, I want to sincerely thank Saint Mary’s College and Brother Ron Gallagher for inviting me here to speak with you today. I am an alumnus of the College and I majored in English. I want to thank all of the friends and family who could be here to support their respective graduates. I also would like to thank the faculty and staff of Saint Mary’s College for being here with us today.
Lastly, I’d like to offer my own warm welcome for the entire Saint Mary’s graduating class of 2013. Please give these graduates a hand.
Obviously, having attended Saint Mary’s College, I certainly believe in the valuable education you have received in the Lasallian tradition. I was president of the Black Students Union, parliamentarian of the Student Senate, a rugby player and a resident assistant in the dormitories. I also worked for the Office of Advising Services. Most importantly, I met my best friend, my soulmate, a few yards up the roadway in Aquinas Hall, my chief judge, my wife.
As I stand before you today, I remember what it was like to be a College graduate. Some of you are feeling uncertainty, hope, fear, and a host of other feelings and emotions. Of course, some of you are merely thinking what a relief it is to finally graduate. A small percentage of you might very well be thinking, “I stayed up way too late last night, so hurry up and get this over so I can go take a nap!” And an even smaller percentage might be thinking, "Hurry up, so we can start the party."
Graduates, I want you to think back to when you were a young kid, and you imagined yourself as a doctor, painter, teacher, singer, lawyer, firefighter, peace officer, businessperson, and so on. Is the career you thought about as a child still your ultimate goal?
As a judge, I am constantly telling young people like yourselves, “Anything you want to do is possible.” If you had a notion as a child that you wanted to enter any career, make a plan for yourself, set yourself on a path, and make it happen.
Explore the opportunities the job market has to offer. Your success is not necessarily dependent upon your title, salary, or economics. It’s certainly not measured by the profession you choose. Success is really measured by your ability to see a goal through to its conclusion. In fact, I found that I was most miserable when I deviated from my career goals and decided to make more money.
Prepare for success, but be mindful of failure. The difference between success and failure: successful people learn from their failures. All of us have experienced failure in some form or another. Remember that when he was working on the light bulb, Thomas Edison said he hadn’t failed 10,000 times, he simply found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.
College is a great proving ground because many of you have experienced some failure without the impact of what might come if you failed to pay a mortgage, or cost a client a lucrative contract.
I imagine a “D” on a paper stings a bit, but that kind of failure can be a useful thing. It can be a good indication that you simply need to work harder.
Not all of you will meet with success as soon you leave college or apply for your first job. Life is nothing if not challenging. However, the experiences you’ve had in college – both the good times and the bad times, but especially the bad – should prepare you for the challenges ahead.
Approach your future and set your path with a vital spirit and a healthy, positive attitude. Life is a remarkable journey full of many twists and turns. However, the course you set is determined by the daily choices you make. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Learn from your failures and your successes because only then will you put your education to its fullest use. Today I know one thing: None of you are failures, because you’re now college graduates. Look at each challenge, face them head-on and prepare to overcome them. You are without a doubt ready for the world even if there are times when life will be difficult.
I have personally faced failure and innumerable challenges throughout my career. I vividly recall the disappointment I felt when I didn’t pass the California State Bar Exam the first time.
During that period of time, I fell back on the lessons I learned while becoming an adult and receiving a great education here at Saint Mary’s College. I remember a teacher at Saint Mary’s once telling me that I had to “clear my plate” while preparing to take my exams. So, when I took the Bar Exam the second time I “cleared my plate” and focused solely on studying for the exam. That teacher and others here at Saint Mary’s believed in my ability to succeed, and they would not allow me to falter despite my best efforts to the contrary.
As a student, I made the mistake of once telling a Christian Brother that I wanted to be a lawyer. From that point forward, he pushed, encouraged and believed in me at a time when I don’t think I had much confidence in myself. I am certainly in my current position due to the various teachers and counselors and mentors who helped me here at this school. You can either take your failures and dwell on them, or you can do as I did and say, “Good – that’s one more way how not to do it.”
A Saint Mary’s education provides you with a gift: The gift of preparation. Essentially this College has prepared you to go out into the world and find your life’s work. Without a doubt, they have given you the tools to function as productive members of society and to meet life’s many challenges.
Most importantly and in addition to whatever occupation you choose, this College has introduced you to the idea of service to the community; the idea that you can and must do something for others. Public service can take many forms: politics, teaching, pro bono work, coaching youth sports, refereeing, helping the homeless, or tutoring. In fact, there are those of us who make public service a vocation and career.
I guess the fact that I had such a humble upbringing has created a desire in me to give something back to my community. My entire career has been guided by the Lasallian tradition of service to the community. I was an altar boy, I coached inner-city youth sports, I refereed, I was a tutor, I was a youth mentor, and I continue to mentor juvenile delinquents in Sacramento. In my career, I have been a prosecutor for the county and state. I continue to be active in my parish, I coach, and I mentor. My service record represents my gift back to my parents, teachers, and counselors.
As you move forward in life and start your journey I want to say that each of you who will soon walk across this stage should be instilled with a sense of gratitude. Your gratitude should be directed toward your parents or guardians who have certainly made sacrifices so that you can attend this fine institution.
During my college graduation, I did learn one important lesson that I'll now share with you: if you have a commencement speech to give, do your best to be brief. So I'll make sure that the lesson definitely sunk in.
However, before I leave the stage, I challenge each of you to repay your parents, guardians, teachers, and counselors by serving others either as a vocation, a career, or in your spare time. Go back to your respective communities, find a need and fill it.
The American critic John Mason Brown once said:
“No one, I am convinced, can be happy who lives only for himself. The joy of living comes from immersion in something that we know to be bigger, better, more enduring and worthier than we are.”