Archive for Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Spring brings loss, promise

May 12, 2004


Late spring is always a time of mixed emotions for me because it brings commencement at the university. On the one hand, I'm happy that our graduating students have successfully completed their course and are about to go out into the greater world. But I'm also saddened that I will no longer see them most days.

Every year I watch dozens of law students I have taught for three years leave the "cloistered" halls in which I shall remain. I always wonder whether I have done enough. Have I taught them all I should have? Have they learned all they need to know? There's never any way to know for sure, but every year, as I think about these soon-to-be lawyers, I know that the odds are that they will do well in life.

Every year at this time, I think about the students I have taught over the past few years who soon will be graduating. And every year I am amazed at the quality of the students we get here at KU and at my good fortune to be here as one of the faculty.

I was speaking to one of my colleagues the other day and we agreed that the best thing about teaching at KU was the students. It's indoor work, for the most part. There's no heavy lifting (except for the occasional pile of library books). And there is the utter delight of spending our days with some of the nicest, brightest people we're ever likely to meet. Every year at this time I realize even more than at other times how much I love my job and how grateful I am to have it.

Certainly, I haven't gotten to know all of the graduating seniors. But the ones I have been privileged to know, I'm glad I know and I hope that we will move from a student-teacher relationship to one of friendship in the years to come. When I think about this year's graduates I think of the student who spent ten years in the army in places like Bosnia who told me that what he valued most about his army experience was serving his country and helping people in need. He was a wonderful help to me in my work on the history of military justice.

Then there's another student of mine who likes to walk with me in the early mornings when I go out to exercise. We'd walk for miles and talk about the law and the legal profession. He's going off to do a graduate degree in law at another law school. There's another graduate who spent an entire year working on an article on digital music royalties. His year of hard work was rewarded by seeing that article appear in a law review.

Another of my students won an award for her published article on retirement housing. I'm more proud of their publications than of my own. And then there's another student who, when he heard two years ago that I was having kidney problems, immediately asked whether I needed a transplant and offered me one of his kidneys if I needed it. And he meant it. I could have cried I was so touched by his offer.

There's nothing in the world I'd rather do than be a teacher. And there's no place I'd rather do it than at KU. Over the years, KU and KU Law have had their minor problems, but they always pass. They pass because no institution made up of the kind of faculty and students like those we are graduating this year (and every year) can ever fail.

Ours is a community of people who care about each other. Indeed, I'd argue that ours is a town and a state comprised of people who care about each other. I've lived in a fair number of places and taught at a fair number of universities, but none that I prefer to KU.

If I had a wish it would be that I could keep all of my students forever, that I could know that every time I came into the classroom I'd see all those faces of whom I'd become so fond. But I know that cannot be. A teacher's job is to teach our students precisely so that they can leave and take up their places in the state and nation and the world.

So at times like this I feel both happy and sad. No doubt at graduation I'll smile when I see all of my students arrayed in their academic finery. And I'll be confident about the future of our state and of our profession of law knowing that these students of today will be the lawyers of tomorrow. But then, I confess, I'll also head home after all the pomp and circumstance is over and feel some regret that I won't be seeing them in the fall. Then I'll think of the remaining students and the new students and realize that I've got a job to do and what a great job it is.

- Mike Hoeflich is a professor in the Kansas University School of Law.

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