Filipino Cornell grad to lawyers: ‘Serve your people’

A Filipino graduate student of Cornell University issues a challenge to his fellow lawyers

The following speech was delivered at the LLM and JD graduation rites at Cornell Unviersity on May 11, 2014. 

When they said there will be around 1,300 people here today. I was shocked, more than terrified. I thought to myself, “there’s more than a thousand people in Ithaca? Really?”

But yeah, among the 1300 people here, of course, there are VIPs. Provost Fox, Dean Schwab, Dean Cramton, esteemed professors, valiant staff members, mom, dad and ate, good afternoon and happy Mother’s Day. To the graduating class, we’re just normal persons here but good afternoon anyway.

Pilipino ako. That means, I am Filipino. My country is relatively insignificant in the international sphere. It’s small. It’s in the middle of the ocean. We’re not influential in the world stage. Many of you can’t even place us in the map. But for reference, we are located 2,000 miles South East of China, 2,700 miles North of Australia, at the western tip of the Pacific Ocean.

This in an open invite to come visit us. I guarantee, my country is beautiful. Our food is amazing, and if you want evidence just look at me: Exhibit A, your honor. The place is safe, the New York city subway is much more dangerous. And our hospitality is second to none. As our tourism slogan puts it, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.”

As a bonus, after this shameless plug for my homeland, there is now one Filipino standing in front of you, who will give you guys unsolicited advice.

To the Juris Doctor class:

You guys rock. Right. But after today, you won’t be so cocky. You’d be out there working, earning a living, building a name for yourself, just like anybody else. But no matter how consumed you are in finding that perfect job with the highest salary possible, don’t forget that the legal profession is not a money-making endeavor! (I can hear some wispers like whuuute? Is he insane?)

But yeah, I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested. The practice of law is not a business. It’s higher than that. It’s about justice and what’s right. And if you make money while doing it, then that’s just awesome sauce. Alright that’s enough for you guys, Jon had you covered.

To my Master of Laws (LLM) class:

After today, life will proceed as scheduled here in Cornell. Apollo will still sell fast and oily chinese food. The buses will still be two mins late. The library will still be open 24/7. The lawschool will operate as if nothing happened (except of course with a gaping hole to be left by our beloved Charlie Cramton who is retiring soon. Good luck sir, we all love you).

We will be forgotten here in Cornell. But let me tell you, for each one of us, wherever we are, our class is the ONLY class worth remembering. I suspect that no one will even remember this speech. But if you can take away two things from me today, let it be these.

First, GET OUT OF HERE. Go home. Go back to your respective countries and serve your people. They don’t need our talents here! Just look at all these bright and hardworking JDs. (They may be alcoholics but come on, they’re brilliant.)

My point is, they have enough talent here in the US. Take your Cornell education back home and be of use to your people, serve in government, improve your legal systems. Don’t get me wrong. I had a wonderful time here. I will miss the ridiculous weather. I will miss the snow. I will miss the e-mail barrage everyday, and I’ll miss deleting them even more. I’ll miss each one of you. But like all good things, it has come to an end. The time has come for us to leave, and be productive in our respective parts of the world. So LLMs, get out of here. 

Second, in pursuing your careers, whether in private representation or government service, keep in mind, that lawyers are NOT just hired guns. We are advocates of what is right and what is just. Along the way we will be confronted with difficult situations. Legally equal sides and moral grey areas. In navigating these tricky roads, books, statutes and even case law aren’t enough guidance. We rely on ourselves. We ought to do what we believe in our hearts is fair and right.


In closing, I will leave you with a few words from one supreme court justice. He said, “There is a higher law than the law of government, (that is) the law of conscience.” That justice happens to be my father, who is here now with my beautiful mother and my elder sister, who looks 10 years younger than me. 

With that, a round of applause for our parents, family, and loved ones. This day belongs to them as well.

Goodluck, Godspeed. Mabuhay!

Thank you and good day!


Carlo recently graduated with a Master of Laws degree from Cornell University. He is the son of Supreme Court Justice Martin Villarama. He plans on returning to the Philippines and continuing his career in government service.

Read other graduation speeches by Filipino lawyers in America:


Filipino Penn Law grad to classmates: Be responsible world citizens


Fililipino Columbia Law grad to peers: Begin with excellence in mind



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