The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
From the Peat Bogs to the Learned Professions
May 28, 1976
Our son Timothy had been telling his classmates that his 90-year-old grandmother was driving all the way from Kansas in a covered wagon to see him graduate. This statement contained several libels which eve a callow young man still sweating out his bar exams should recognize. First of all, she's not 90. (She wouldn't even admit to Social Security age if she didn't enjoy getting the checks.)
Secondly, she escaped Kansas several years ago, and became a voting resident of Burlington. And finally, although my old Cessna has been compared to a John Deere tractor (mostly by envious Ozark pilots who don't own the ones they fly) it is no covered wagon. In fact, there was one stretch, coming up on the last ridge of the Alleghenies at Front Royal, when we clocked it at 179 miles and hour thanks to the tail wind.
But his abuse of the truth served one good purpose. When she almost backed out, on the eve of the flight, we employed the exaggeration to persuade her that the entire university would be gloom-stricken if she didn't show up.
My own reason for going, aside from unblushing fatherly pride, was to celebrate another milestone in this family's upward struggle from the potato famine. Our first association with American law occurred in the Superior Court of the City of New York on October 25, 1872, when Tim's great-grandfather, John, received his naturalization papers. That his name was misspelled on them was irrelevant, because he couldn't read anyway.
It certainly sets no records for upward mobility of American immigrants, but it satisfied me, standing under an old sycamore, on the green lawn of Georgetown University, above the Potomac, listening to the scholarly Latin, to know that we'd made if from the peat bogs to the learned professions in 104 years.
So we nearly all went. Only Sean and Linda, with our brand new granddaughter Brenda as an excuse, stayed home in Burlington. Four of us went in the Cessna and five in the Toyota, the former in five hours (with the help of the tail wind) the latter in 20 (with alternating drivers). Kevin and Annie live there, as do Tim and Judy, so that there were 13 distributed among the beds, couches, and on the floors of the two small apartments Kevin and Tim occupy on Capitol Hill. Thomas did his bit to alleviate the congestion by pitching the tent in Kevin's back yard, oblivious to all the reports that say this is one of the capital's high crime areas.
Somehow, at the appointed hour, we were all assembled on the great lawn, beneath the towering, gray stone buildings, all reasonably alert, except for grandson John who had made the trip with marvelous energy, and then slept through the ceremony.
As I watched them march in (straggle would be a better word) I realized that the law today is not exactly an exclusive calling. Our Timothy was one of 579 in Georgetown Law Center's class of '76.
Honorary degrees were bestowed on Senator Pastore, and on a woman judge whose virtues, as the presenter extolled them, were so elaborate that one of our kids whispered, too loudly, "It must be the Virgin Mary!"
The various addresses and charges to the graduates all stressed that they weren't in it for the money, protesting a little too much, it seemed to me, and they were declared juris doctors en masse and an attempt was made to sing the Alma Mater, which apparently no one but the University president knew.
Timothy rejoined us, with the diploma all in Latin, its total unreadability worth at least an extra $10 on any fee; and then he led us downtown for a tour of the two floors of luxuriously carpeted offices of the law firm he will join in July (provided of course he passes the Iowa bar exam).
I noted with mixed emotions that it was but a tort's throw from the White House that pinnacle of American achievement where all those lawyers got in all that trouble.
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