California Supreme Court Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, a widely published expert on constitutional law, education law and policy, civil rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court as well as a former academic, was the speaker at the law school’s commencement ceremony on May 24, 2014.
Liu began his address by relating some life lessons he learned in childhood, one of which was “When you do any public speaking, make sure you are taller than the podium.” He also spoke about his conviction that failure is not the enemy. “For very accomplished people like yourselves, my worry is not that you won’t succeed. It’s that you will never fail. …Sometimes failure makes you work harder and is a gateway to new opportunities.”
Stressing the importance of action, he said, “We live in a world with big challenges: climate change, human rights, inequality, crime poverty, sectarian conflict. Like it or not, these problems will be your life’s work. …The solutions to these challenges are uncertain, but one thing is for sure: No progress will be made unless people with great talent, education, and leadership—people like you—step up and take some risks.”
In his closing, Liu asked the graduates to remember why they decided to pursue a law degree. “I know you came to this place with some hopes and dreams. And my one piece of advice is that you print a copy of your law school admission essay and keep it in the top drawer of your desk throughout your career, no matter where you work, no matter what you do. Let it be a reminder of the person you once were and the person you want to be. And don’t be afraid to take some risks, or else your hopes and dreams might always be just hopes and dreams.”
The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu grew up in Sacramento. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University and attended Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, earning a master’s degree in philosophy and physiology. Liu then helped launch the AmeriCorps national service program in Washington, D.C., and worked for two years as a senior program officer at the Corporation for National Service.
Liu earned his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1998, becoming the first in his family to earn a law degree. He clerked for Judge David Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and worked as special assistant to the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, where he developed and coordinated K-12 education policy. He went on to clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the October 2000 term. In 2001, he joined the appellate litigation practice of O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C., where he worked on an array of antitrust, white collar, insurance, product liability, and pro bono matters.
Prior to becoming a judge, Liu was a professor of law and associate dean at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall). A prolific and influential scholar, he was confirmed by a unanimous vote to the California Supreme Court on August 31, 2011.