Steve Young urges graduates to overcome challenges, follow their quests

Monday, June 9, 2014

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, addressed the 2014 graduates of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University on May 13. The ceremony took place at Gammage Auditorium on ASU’s Tempe Campus. Young, who graduated from BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1994, shared his life experiences overcoming adversity both on and off the football field. He told graduates to seek opportunities in their life that will challenge them and allow them to find out how great they can be. 

Young, who spent most of his football career with the San Francisco 49ers, recounted how his football playing days and law school studies overlapped, sometimes in dramatic fashion. Young remembered two occasions when he played in the Super Bowl Sunday afternoon and was sitting in class at BYU the very next morning. “It was a great training ground for me,” Young said of his law school experience. “It prepared me for many things I have done since law school.”

Young spoke about the persistent pursuit of success and the trials he faced when he joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1987. When he first arrived, Young backed up another NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Joe Montana, which at the time Young said was a frustrating experience. Young said learning how to follow a legendary figure like Montana was a challenge that required patience and perseverance. A task that became even more difficult when the 49ers on-field performance began to slip and fans began looking for a scapegoat they could blame; Young was the target.

As Young was dealing with the challenge, he had the good fortune of sitting next to Dr. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People on a cross-country flight. The conversation he shared with Dr. Covey turned out to be a pivotal moment in Young’s life and the turning point he needed for his football career. Covey explained to Young that his greatest quest in life was to see how good he could be even when the odds were stacked against him and obstacles got in his way, such as trying to lead an entire professional football team made up of many different personalities or trying to replace a legendary and beloved figure like Montana. Covey encouraged Young not to squander his opportunity with the 49ers. “He told me, ‘don’t be afraid to find out how good you are. Don’t avoid the chance to grow, to refine, to prune, which can often come along with this quest. Go through it rather than around it.’” Young said of Covey’s advice.  

Young’s mindset on the football field changed after the conversation, and in 1994 Young reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXIX. Young called this an ‘Everest Moment’ in his life. “I want you to know that these moments are important, these stakes in the ground at the top of Everest are important, but they don’t last. What lasts to me is this quest, this quest to take any challenge, any trial any affliction, and turn it into the refining fire of your life,” Young said.

The Class of 2014, which includes students completing their coursework in December 2013, had 202 candidates for a Juris Doctorate, 15 candidates for a Master of Law (LL.M.), and nine for a Master of Legal Studies. Dean Douglas Sylvester congratulated graduates and encouraged them to remember why they were there and how they had gotten there. He pointed out the rarity of their accomplishment, telling them that less than seven percent of the U.S. population has achieved the level of education of a Master’s degree, and fewer than one percent has achieved the level of a J.D. degree.

Sylvester also commended the families and friends of the graduates, for their support and assistance to graduates throughout their law school experience. “This is a milestone and celebration for our graduates,” Sylvester said. “But is also a milestone and celebration for the family and friends who have supported them. None of our graduates would be here today without all of you.”

The Class of 2014 arrived at the College of Law with high expectations as the strongest entering class in the history of the law school. Sylvester also revealed that ASU was one of the first law school’s to successfully implement a program that prepares students to sit for the February bar exam before they graduate. In the inaugural year of the program, 12 members of the Class of 2014 enrolled in the new program and sat for the early bar. All 12 passed the exam, receiving their test results days before they walked the stage at Gammage.

Graduates Vail Cloar and Timothy Forsman shared the distinction of being awarded the John S. Armstrong Award. Cloar addressed his classmates, speaking about the special commitment that family and friends make in the lives of law students and how their support allows students to reach the finish line and accomplish their goals. Forsman told his fellow graduates to cherish their accomplishment. He also said he hoped 2014 graduates would stay engaged with the law school and remember to give back.

Justin Hoffman, chosen by the class to be the student convocation speaker, shared advice he had received from his father before coming to ASU. His father encouraged him to take risks and chances and not to be afraid of stepping outside of his comfort zone. “I felt like a minnow in the Pacific Ocean when I first got here,” Hoffman said. But Hoffman pointed out that the risks that each graduate had taken on their path to pursuing their legal education had paid off. “Class of 2014, we are a record setting bunch,” Hoffman said. “Each one of us is different yet we are bonded in this shared experience.”

More than 70 graduates in the Class of 2014 received pro bono distinction, meaning they contributed 50 hours or more of pro bono service while attending law school. At a Pro Bono Awards Ceremony earlier in the day, Kelly Flood, an attorney with the ASU Alumni Law Group, spoke to students and their families on the importance of giving back to the community. Tara Christine Cahn received the Outstanding Student Volunteer award through the Community Legal Services Volunteer Lawyers Program.

Other notable academic distinctions: five graduated summa cum laude and Order of the Coif; 11 graduated magna cum laude and Order of the Coif, and 28 walked with cum laude honors. Four received certificates in Indian Law, and 24 were awarded certificates in Law, Science, and Technology. 

Several students received special awards. Jennine Marie Ihde was awarded the Mary M. Schroeder Public Interest Prize. Mitesh V. Patel received the Strouse Prize, and Sadie Elizabeth Short was honored with the Carey/Armstrong Prize for Achievement in Public Service. Tamara Herrera, a law professor who has taught at the College of Law since 2001, was chosen by the students for the outstanding faculty award. 

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