'Baylor Lawyer' Title is Mark of Great Distinction, Essary Tells Grads

  • News Photo 3485
    A capacity audience attended Saturday's Baylor Law School commencement program in Jones Concert Hall at the Glennis McCrary Music Building.
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    Professor Melissa Eassary was selected by the graduating class to present the keynote address. Seated are, from left, Baylor President John M. Lilley, Dr. J. Randall O'Brien, executive vice president and provost, Dean Brad Toben, and Associate Dean Leah Jackson.
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    Senior faculty member Professor David Guinn congratulates law graduates as they enter Jones Concert Hall.
  • News Photo 3482
    Sixty-seven graduates received juris doctor degrees during the commencement ceremonies in Jones Concert Hall.
May 1, 2006

Speaking at her last commencement ceremony Saturday (April 29) as a faculty member of Baylor Law School, Professor Melissa Essary told the 67 graduates that the title Baylor Lawyer "will follow you wherever you go."

"It is a measure of great distinction that you have attained that title," said Essary, who will be taking up a new post July 1 as dean of the Campbell University School of Law in North Carolina. "All of those who had great expectations of you, all of those who invested themselves in you, are represented today in your achievements."

Essary, a 1985 Baylor law school graduate, reminded the 67 graduates that nearly 2,000 had applied for the freshman class seats they had occupied. "I think that tells the story," she said.

The graduating class represented 51 different undergraduate institutions and 28 different majors, Essary said. Highlighting some of the graduates' diverse pre-law school roles and accomplishments, she said they included a scoutmaster, an interim pastor, a competitive dancer, a part-time romance writer, and a member of the NoZe Brotherhood. To audience laughter she told of another graduate, a former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employee, who "regularly talked to Ralph the swimming pig at Aquarena Springs on a rather frequent basis," and another student who dreamed of painting the White House pink - "and she may still," she added.

"Another member of the class is the first college graduate in his family. His grandfather left school at nine years of age to seek work. Of course, to his grandfather, becoming a lawyer was synonymous with riding a rocket ship to the moon. His grandson in this class is riding that rocket ship this very day," she said.

Recalling that the students had presented her with a farewell plaque bearing the Henry Adams quotation, "A teacher effects eternity," Essary encouraged the graduates "to call or write your teacher heroes and tell them about today...tell them 'thank you.'" She said at a very rough estimate, the 67 graduates represented 1,340 years of education, or roughly 20 years for each graduate. "Think of all those teachers who poured their lives into you, to bring you to the pinnacle of accomplishment today."

Telling the graduates that their future opportunities "are nothing short of mind-boggling," she said that as attorneys they also will meet and help people in the darkest of hours - "when they are financially ruined, when their marriage is broken, and their lives seemingly beyond repair." She said, "They will need you. They will need your passionate, competent, ethical, legal representation and your ability as an advocate to be their voice."

Essary, a member of the Baylor law faculty for 16 years, previously served as a trial lawyer with the international law firm of Vinson and Elkins. She is actively involved in the profession through her service as a mediator in a variety of employment cases. In 2001, Baylor honored Essary with the Outstanding Tenured Teacher Award, and in 1997, the Texas Bar Foundation awarded her the Outstanding Law Journal Article Award for a series of articles she wrote.

Diplomas were presented during the graduation program by Baylor University President John M. Lilley and Law Dean Brad Toben, The Gov. Bill and Vara Faye Daniel Professor of Law, assisted by Leah W. Jackson, professor of law and associate dean.

Dr. J. Randall O'Brien, executive vice president and provost, gave the invocation, and Professor Gerald R. Powell, The Abner V. McCall Professor of Evidence, and Adjunct Professor Steve McConnico hooded the graduates.

After the ceremony, a reception for the graduates and their guests was hosted by the Baylor Law Alumni Association at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center.

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