Today, the University of Denver gave me the University's Distinguished Teaching Award during the annual Convocation ceremony.
I know it sounds cliche, but I really was honored to be nominated. I am sure there are many equally deserving members of the faculty at the University. When I read the packet of supporting materials that the law school put together in support of the nomination, I was blown away. I said to my Dean, "I can't imagine how actually winning the award could exceed the experience of reading what my students, former students, and colleagues have said about my work with them." And - as Edith Ann would say - that's the truthth.
I learned in June that I would be this year's recipient. There is now a nice picture of me in Mary Reed Hall, and my name has been added to a large plaque, also in Mary Reed. To have my name added to a list of great teachers over the years at DU is a tremendous honor. I can barely put into words how much it means to me.
I know this also is a cliche, but I really do share this honor with so many others. With my students, first and foremost. They have inspired me and motivated me every day. They put their trust in me, looking for help to do something important with their lives: to become counselors at law. It is my great honor and privilege to work with them. I counted it up - roughly speaking, I have had 850 students in law over the 28 years that I have taught (on and off) in a law school. They are my legacy, and I only hope I can continue to do this work for many more years. My students are why I left the practice of law, and why I do this now.
But I also want to share this award with my teaching assistants. I have had many wonderful TAs over the years, and it is really they who have kept the whole operation running smoothly. It is so important in LP - it being a first year course - that everything run well and the stress level for the students stay at a manageble level. LP has so many disparate learning objectives that it can seem like a Rube Goldberg contraption at times. Students understandably get stressed when they think the course is disorganized, and it is the TAs who help me keep it on track. Instead of the stress of not knowing what is going on impeding the students' learning, we are able to keep everyone focused on what they need to do in the course. I could not do this well without the help of my wonderful TAs over the years.
And I share this award with the many, many, dedicated teachers of legal practice skills across the country. Many of them have labored in near obscurity for a long time, often while being treated poorly and paid worse. But they are the ones who do the hard and often thankless work that our students need, and they have done it faithfully - day by day, student by student, paper by paper - for years. Among those dedicated teachers are my own esteemed colleagues in DU's Lawyering Process Program. It is a privilege to work alongside them, and this is also true of all of my colleagues around the country, many of whom I am proud to call friends. Among the greatest pleasures for me in this award is that I see it as a form of recognition for the work that all of these dedicated teachers have done in this field for many, many years.
It is gradually dawning on me that, when I and my students are at our best, I am not really a teacher at all; I am a circus barker. I hold the door open and invite my students in. And if they come in - and it only happens if they do - they are presented with the fundamental building blocks of what lawyers do and what it means to be a lawyer, and they are changed forever. This is what is called "teaching." It is a magical process of incredible richness and beauty, and I am lucky to be a part of it.
I have others to thank too, which reminds me of this wonderful quote from John Steinbeck:
"School is not so easy and for the most part is not very fun, but then if you are very lucky, you may find a teacher. Three real teachers in a lifetime is the very best of luck. My three had these things in common. They all loved what they were doing. They did not tell, they catalyzed a burning desire to know. Under their influence, the horizons sprung wide open and fear went away and the unknown became knowable. But most important of all, the truth, that dangerous stuff, became beautiful and precious."
This is a description not of what I am, but what I aspire to be. I did not have three such teachers, I had two. Stuart Hanlon, my 10th Grade Math teacher (above), and Jim Bunnell (left), the Director of the Andover Summer Session where I taught for several summers in my youth. If I could be but half the men and even a third the teachers they were, I would consider my life a success. Both of them are with me every day I walk into class.
And of course I want to thank my wife and daughters. Kathy found me nearly 20 years ago in a fairly difficult time, and we have both worked ourselves out of that to a much better place. And she has been a tremendous advisor to me every single day. Our daughters are our pride and joy. It was simply wonderful to have all three of them with me today at Convocation, because they also inspire me every day.