Springer speaks to applause at Law graduation

Nomaan Merchant

CHICAGO – Most of the law graduates inside the Arie Crown Theater Friday probably didn’t expect advice on ethics from Jerry Springer.

“Let’s be honest – I’ve been virtually everything you can’t respect: a lawyer, a mayor, a news anchor and a talk show host,” joked Springer, who spoke at the School of Law’s convocation ceremony. “Pray for me; if I get to heaven, we’re all going.”

In a wide-ranging speech, Springer, Law ’68, drew upon his experience as a former mayor of Cincinnati, an award-winning news anchor and now the host of one of television’s raunchiest shows.

Springer was invited by a student committee formed to choose a graduation speaker, but his invitation drew criticism from many students, as well as e-mails on school listservs both for and against the choice.

Law Dean David Van Zandt refused to rescind the committee’s invitation, and on Friday introduced Springer as “the first graduation speaker to have inspired an opera and a song sung by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.”

Just a few minutes into his speech, Springer admitted he wouldn’t have invited himself to commencement 40 years ago.

“As happy as I am to look out and see all of your faces, I understand there are some of you who are not too happy to see mine,” Springer said. “To the students who invited me, thank you, I am honored. To the students who object to my presence, well, you’ve got a point. I, too, would have chosen someone else.

“But the truth is, once asked, I don’t know, it would have been kind of arrogant or at least unappreciative for me to have said no, so here I am.”

Regardless of their chosen professions, Springer told students they could not hold themselves above the people they would serve.

“We are all alike,” he said to applause. “Some of us just dress better or have money or were born into better circumstances.”

Springer said he faces ethical questions with his show regularly, “not to mention the business question that a so-called ‘cleaner’ show would be more profitable a la ‘Oprah’ or ‘Dr. Phil.'”

“At least I can rationalize that the show is open only to those who really want to be on it and they get to choose the subject matter,” he said.

Springer criticized the media for reporting stories without considering the consequences faced by their subjects and warned students they would face ethical dilemmas throughout their lives.

“Think of the ethical questions you will have to deal with,” he said. “Will you work with a corporate client who perhaps is polluting? Will you walk into a senior partner’s office after having been asked to prepare a memorandum in support of this client’s case and say, ‘I’m sorry, sir or madam, I have to find another place to work?'”

Springer ended his 15-minute address with a story about his parents, who escaped the Holocaust and immigrated to the United States with Springer and his sister in 1949.

“In one generation here in America, my family went from near-total annihilation to the ridiculously privileged life I live today because of my silly show,” Springer said, his voice wavering slightly. “Indeed in America, all things are possible.”

Springer received applause as well as a standing ovation from about half the students. Van Zandt and University President Henry Bienen stood to greet Springer afterward.

Reviews of the speech after the ceremony were positive, though some graduates declined to comment.

“It’s the only time during the ceremony that I was teary-eyed,” said graduate Molly Sorg.

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