Penn State

Sen. Kelly Ayotte urges new Penn State law school grads to embrace the unexpected

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., addresses the graduates during the Penn State Dickinson School of Law commencement on Saturday, May 16, 2015.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., addresses the graduates during the Penn State Dickinson School of Law commencement on Saturday, May 16, 2015. CDT photo

Friends and family had one last chance to score some free legal advice on Saturday.

The Penn State Dickinson School of Law held its 2015 commencement at Eisenhower Auditorium, introducing the next wave of young lawyers to the world — and billable hours.

A fury of camera flashes punctuated the moment the soon-to-be graduates began filing into the auditorium, a few of them tossing off quick waves to familiar faces in the crowd before taking their seats near the head of the stage.

After a few brief opening remarks, the students were introduced to their commencement speaker, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire.

The former prosecutor is the chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and the Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations — but on Saturday her most relevant title was that of Penn State alumna.

Ayotte graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, a link she immediately addressed in the opening of her address.

“It’s wonderful to be back here on campus at Penn State,” Ayotte said.

That bit of nostalgia served as an apt segue into the senator’s own past. Ayotte told the graduates that when she wore her own cap and gown she had no intention of being a prosecutor. There were bills and student loans to pay and life at a private law firm seemed like the fastest way to address those priorities.

That’s when an unexpected opportunity turned up.

A partner at her firm asked Ayotte to fill in on an arraignment involving a murder that had taken place during the course of a bank robbery. Eager to please the boss, she complied.

There was just one problem — Ayotte had never particpated in an arraignment before.

“My client had more experience in a courtroom than I did,”Ayotte said.

The senator told the graduates that however daunted she may have originally been, working on the case taught her about DNA evidence and how to cross-examine a witness. By the time the case was over, she knew that she wanted to be a prosecutor.

Ayotte urged the students not to turn away from unexpected developments in their own lives.

“Don’t be afraid to take on cases or a new job or issue that really stretches your boundaries,” Ayotte said.

She encouraged the students to value and protect the law as a crucial component of democracy.

“As much as I love what I’m doing as a United States senator, I have not lost my love for the law,” Ayotte said.

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