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Story: Mel Martinez Addresses Spring Graduates

Mel Martinez speaks to graduates

The Honorable Mel Martinez, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and FSU law school alumnus, addresses 2002 spring graduates

Mel Martinez, 1973 College of Law graduate and the first FSU law school graduate to be appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, challenged the class of 2002 to live by the Oath of the Admissions to the Florida Bar in his April 27 commencement address. He said that through the oath, there is a promise to seek results in work that are fair and just and to show respect, treat people honestly, accept responsibility for professional conduct, and uphold the highest standards. He said, "I can almost hear you thinking, 'Well, of course I can do that!' And of course, you can. But the challenge is not in saying 'I can.' The challenge comes in swearing 'I will.' Because I am here to tell you that living by your oath will not always be easy."

Martinez, who has a long history of public service, was appointed U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in January 2001, by President George W. Bush.

The Secretary also called on graduates to use their expertise in assisting those who are less fortunate. "I hope your experiences in pro bono work have been rewarding. That has certainly been the case in my own life. When I began practicing, I was one of the first bilingual lawyers in the Orlando area. And so I became the person that poor, Hispanic families would turn to for legal advice and representation. Many of them, of course, had little or no money. I helped however I could, and learned a lot of what I know about the law standing at their side. Influencing another life in such a profound way brings with it a deep sense of satisfaction that I want you to know for yourselves," he said.

Born in Cuba, Martinez has taken an active role in efforts to increase the numbers of minorities in the legal profession. He was a highly successful personal injury attorney in the Orlando area before he was elected Chairman of Orange County government in 1998. The Chairmanship was one of the most powerful elected positions in Florida and allowed Martinez to push what he called "a quality of life agenda" that focused on reducing over-crowding in schools.

Martinez began his address to the 191 spring graduates by congratulating them for their tremendous strength and resolve. The Secretary then acknowledged family and friends for their sacrifices and support leading up to this day. "They have shared in your challenges, your frustrations, and your many successes. And the joy that you feel today is their joy, too," he said. Martinez said that when he came to FSU, he was unsure of how he would use his J.D. degree. "I knew that I wanted to practice law. I felt strongly that being an attorney would allow me to serve my community in ways that another profession might not. But if you had asked me back then if I thought that I would one day be serving in the Cabinet of the President of the United States, a lot of my law professors would have had a good laugh. For a Cuban refugee, this seemed highly unlikely," he said. "As I have since learned, a law degree gives you a broad background for many careers, and can take you places you never imagined."

Martinez closed by urging graduates to take his challenges seriously and to live by their oaths, showing compassion for those they meet in life. "If you allow yourself to be guided by compassion for others, you will have many opportunities, both inside and outside of your work, to change someone else's life, at the same time you enrich your own," he said.

College of Law Dean Donald Weidner, former Dean and President of FSU Sandy D'Alemberte, along with professors Charles Ehrhardt, Steve Gey, Nat Stern and John Yetter were present to confer degrees and perform the hooding.

 

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