Remarks on Accepting the Philadelphia Bar Association’s 2014 Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award

There is no success that comes to us through our efforts alone.  In various ways, our friends, colleagues and loved ones contribute – by encouraging us, supporting us and, in many instances, making us look good as a result of their efforts.  I had the pleasure of introducing a program at which three of my colleagues spoke to audiences in Beijing and Tokyo.  Professor Greg Mandel spoke on evolutionary and revolutionary trends in Intellectual Property Law, Professor Duncan Hollis spoke on how well law is (or is not) promoting Cybersecurity, and Professor Salil Mehra spoke about the implications of the Apple e-book case (currently pending in the Second Circuit) on Antitrust Law.  In a few days, Professor Hollis will reprise his Cybersecurity presentation in Pusan, South Korea, and Dean Louie Thompson and I will speak there about US and International Legal Education.  I start this blog post with this information because my colleagues’ presentations have been spectacular, and have further enhanced the reputation of Temple Law School’s faculty.  Their work makes Temple Law School, and indirectly me as Dean, look good.  The same is true for my having been honored by the Philadelphia Bar Association with this year’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award.  The award was given to me, but I share it with my many colleagues who are also devoted to a more diverse legal profession and a more diverse and inclusive world.

What follows is a transcript of my remarks on diversity, offered in acceptance of the award.  To watch the video, please click here.

Friends, colleagues, members of the judiciary, and members of the Bar:  Thank you for selecting me as this year’s recipient of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award.   Justice Sotomayor is a great, and smart and accomplished – and very cool – lady, and to have my name associated with her is deeply humbling.    I thank the Bar Association for giving me the chance to say a few words here – by video.  You’ll be pleased to know that I’m going take less time than they offered.  I’ve sat through these sorts of videos.  A lot gets lost across the airwaves.   But please bear with me.  There are a couple things I do want to say.  First, and most importantly, I deeply regret that I cannot be there in person to share this moment with you.  On the serious side, I worry that you’ll think me ungracious for not managing to be present.  But please forgive me.   I am with colleagues presenting on cybersecurity and intellectual property to audiences in China and Tokyo.  It just was not possible to undo these appearances.  On the less serious side, we debated an appearance by Skype.  But it’s after midnight in China.  You really don’t want to see me after midnight.  So instead, thank you for letting me offer a few – daytime – thoughts.

First, thanks to Mary Platt, Lynn Marks, and Phyllis Beck, who nominated me, and the many others of you who supported my nomination.  It’s humbling to be in the company of such prior recipients as Nolan Atkins, Andre Dennis, PDLG, the Liacouras Committee, and of course Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Her achievements and her contributions, not just to our profession but to our nation, are proof that we are limited in what we can accomplish only by what we dare to dream.

Speaking of dreams, I am profoundly grateful for the opportunities that I have been given to do more than I or my parents  ever dreamt was possible.  We have worked hard as a nation to remove the barriers that once shut people out on the basis of their race, gender, or orientation, and both I and the Justice have been able to dream bigger dreams as a result of that work.  But I’d like to suggest to you now, and I believe that Justice Sotomayor would agree, that diversity is more than access.  It’s more than tearing down fences, opening doors and removing barriers that might exclude. Real diversity lies in an embrace – a celebration – of difference.

Let me  make the point this way.  The children of Barack Obama, or Eric Holder, or Mayor Nutter will all be able to have diversity categories checked.  But their experiences will likely have given them exposure and sophistication that will, except for their skin color, render much of their “difference” invisible.  As an aside, don’t even get me started on the fact that as I was crafting examples to make this point, there were far more “male” examples than female.  We’ll dive into that topic some other day.  For today, let me implore you to understand that true diversity means difference.  Often, it means difference in ways that are unexpected, unusual, or uncomfortable, but at the same time incredibly delightful.  When we embrace difference in others, we often gain a new appreciation for our own unique contributions as well.  When we understand diversity not as an accommodation of difference but as a celebration of it, we open our eyes to horizons and possibilities far beyond anything we had dreamt was possible.  The opportunity to see the world, and ourselves, from another’s perspective is one that will always challenge us, dare us, to dream more.

Many in our profession believe that we can achieve diversity only if we personally lose something; power, status, opportunity.  Those who hold this view think that our profession is, at bottom, a zero sum game. Please allow me to suggest that this way of thinking is wrong, and in following it we place limits on our imaginations.  The most enriching, exciting, illuminating, stimulating, and thought- provoking ideas typically come in combination with people who are different from us.  Even if you think you are terrific, and many of you are, I guarantee you’ll be better if you are joined by someone who brings an entirely new and unexpected perspective.  I believe that if our profession is to continue in its pursuit of our highest ideals, if we are to continue to both thrive and serve our communities well, we must embrace difference as the valuable gift that it is.

I feel a solidarity with Justice Sotomayor. We have both lived a dream.  So it is easy for me to pass a commitment along to others – a commitment to diversity.  It is who I am, and it is my life.

It is an honor and a privilege to receive this year’s Justice Sotomayor Diversity Award.  I promise to work every day to pass my commitment on to others and to dare them – you – to dream as well.

Thank you for this most extraordinary honor.

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