Photo courtesy of montclair.edu
With the final stepping stone to the real world ahead of them, thousands of graduates sat amongst a sea of red stoles and decorated caps at this year’s commencement. In order to prepare for the moment their college careers would come to an end, the soon-to-be alumni listened carefully to the words of wisdom each speaker had to offer.
Though every individual to take the stage possessed priceless advice for the graduates, one stood out from the rest: this year’s commencement speaker, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Stuart J. Rabner.
Perhaps the most notable of the ceremony, the Chief Justice himself was extremely humbled to be selected to speak at such a momentous occasion. “I felt greatly honored,” said Rabner. “Montclair has a wonderful reputation, terrific faculty and student body.”
Since his invitation, Chief Justice Rabner had been consistently working towards improving his overall speech and ensuring its positive message as well as its relevance to his audience. “Since I was invited, I had been thinking about this on a regular basis,” said Rabner, “in part, because of the challenge of trying to offer very brief remarks that hopefully will have some meaning for those in attendance.”
To prepare for the occasion, Rabner had read through various forms of literature including quotes, excerpts and – of course – speeches. “[I had] been doing a fair amount of reading and setting aside of things,” said Rabner. “When I [came] up with a thought, [I] put it in a folder and [went over it] again and again; so [it was] an ongoing process.”
Unlike others who write out their whole speeches, the Chief Justice only constructed a simple outline of the speech he hoped to deliver at the ceremony. From his experiences of presenting cases in the court room and addressing larger groups of individuals on a regular basis, Rabner found that the best speeches are those delivered in the spur of the moment rather than those that are rehearsed.
“At the end of the day, no matter what I read from others, you’re always best speaking in your own voice,” said Rabner. At the end of the process, the Chief Justice hoped to have a “very good outline that [he] could rely on when [he offered] remarks at Commencement itself.”
At the same time, the Chief Justice had incorporated both his background as well as his experience into the speech. Upon his graduation from Princeton University, Harvard Law School and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Rabner noted that he did not so much remember the words of his own commencement speakers.
“I cannot remember who spoke at my college or law school graduation and I don’t believe my graduating class would credit the speaker for whatever they’ve accomplished or didn’t accomplish in life,” said Rabner. “So, [I tried] to take that healthy perspective with me when I [thought] about the impact that a few moments of speaking to a graduating class [would] have.”
For this reason, the Chief Justice had hoped to keep his remarks brief and to-the-point so that the graduates could celebrate their achievement sooner rather than later. “It’s a time for celebration, first and foremost, for everyone who’s reached this milestone,” said Rabner. “It’s a time for a little bit of self-reflection on the part of those who are graduating and, maybe, just a little bit of advice.”
The speech Chief Justice Rabner delivered on the day of Commencement certainly lived up to the expectations of those in attendance including administration, graduates, family and friends alike. Of course, his words will definitely be remembered in years to come.