School of Law Commencement Address: Question Your Certainty

President Joseph Aoun
Northeastern University
May 22, 2009

Good afternoon. We’ve had wonderful speakers today: Your classmates Scott Stillman and Matthew Sweet, Professor David Hall, and our distinguished commencement speaker Steve Oleskey. I am now going to exercise poetic license and paraphrase them—and give you a charge.

This institution deeply believes in diversity in all of its forms—gender, ethnicity, and cultural background. We also believe in diversity of ideas. It is under this value system that we strive not to demonize those who disagree with us, for that is the basis for intolerance, dictatorship, and tyranny. We do not always hold the truth. No one does. I urge you to question your certainty. Use your humanity to listen, understand, and change.

We invoke the rule of law with a capital “L,” and we must all respect that. But laws are born with relativity, uncertainty, and sometimes injustice. I can give you examples—as I am certain you can, too—ranging from slavery to the death penalty.

So here is my wish for you. I wish you the freedom to think on your own. The freedom to question your certainty. For this is what it means to nurture a free mind and be a free human being. Throughout your time at this University you have been given the freedom to do just that. Keep it up!

To the Class of 2009 graduates: I wish you wonderful fulfillment in your lives, as well as great happiness. I salute you and wish you the best. Thank you very much.