DeKALB – Gov. Pat Quinn encouraged Northern Illinois University law graduates to follow in the tradition of the great trial lawyer Abraham Lincoln.
“You will make a difference, whatever that might be," Quinn said.
During his commencement address Saturday at the Convocation Center, Quinn emphasized the importance of ensuring nobody is left out of the opportunity to practice law. He also stressed the importance of higher education, providing justice to military members, and using a law degree to benefit society.
Quinn, who earned his law degree from Northwestern University and has been in public office for 35 years, also recognized state Senator Toi Hutchinson, who received her law degree with the group of 99 students.
Quinn said members of the military have faced danger all over the world, and lawyers can provide justice for them when they return home. He mentioned the difficulty for military members to adjust to civilian life, especially with tasks like finding a job, getting health care and furthering their education.
“All of these are issues that come up, unfortunately,” Quinn said. “They have legitimate grievances, and they need a lawyer to make sure that they receive justice.”
From Quinn’s speech, graduate Isioma Ebiringah said he took away the importance to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
“I think that’s as much flack as attorneys get in our society,” Ebiringah said. “It’s our duty to uphold the Constitution and protect those who cannot protect themselves. Whatever law you practice, we have a job to protect people. I feel his speech pounded on that and he knows we have this ability and we can change our society.”
Quinn said he wants Illinois to be a leader when it comes to helping returning military personnel.
He also said the strongest thing the state can do to improve democracy is to invest in education. Quinn was recently at NIU in April for a Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant rally, to help students afford a college education. He said the opportunity to learn is important, but it must be affordable.
“If we don’t invest in our early childhood, K though 12 and also our community colleges and definitely our four-year universities and our graduate schools, including this law school,” Quinn said, “Illinois will go backward.”
Graduate Peter Fitzgerald said he appreciated how Quinn acknowledged that a college education is a “team effort” of family, friends and other supporters.
“It’s very important you have the vision on how you take your legal education and make a difference,” Quinn said. “Those who are officers of the court … have a special duty to our society.”