A triumphant invitation to the first VLS commencement

[First published as “Letter to Some Friends” in our May 3, 1976 edition, coinciding with Vermont Law School’s first commencement. Click here for a PDF version of the original.]

Dear Glen and Nat,

Enclosed are two invitations to my graduation. That’s right, Vermont Law School is having a graduation and you two are especially invited to come.

I remember you three years ago, Glen, waving your acceptance to some prominent law law school in my face. But Nat and I both later received letters of acceptance from Vermont Law School; so what if ours said send five hundred dollars right away. And remember that summer when we all drove up to VLS to see what it looked like. When we drove into South Royalton, we passed right by the school (you know, that because a standard joke here). We went into the school and I was quite apprehensive and you, Nat, you were utterly downhearted. Glen, you kept teasing the both of us, “so this is the law school? Are you sure its not that store in town?” We met Doria and then I really had second thoughts. As we drove home we talked about the law school. Glen, remember you told us we would be smart if we didn’t go to the school? That was easy for you to say, you were accepted to a real law school. And you Nat, you said there was no way that school would last but you would give it a little chance (you should have given it more of a chance).

Well, its three years later and as you can both see by those invitations, we both made it—this real law school and I. Sure all three of us will be graduating from law school. Nat or course will be graduating from law school next year because he dropped out of here to go to another law school. But we will all get law degrees. Yet, when they hand you your law degrees they will simply hand you a law degree, but when they hand me my law degree, they will be handing me a lot more than a law degree. It’s hard to say exactly what it is or in fact if what it is is good or bad. Yet I know I have gotten more than a legal education. I guess it is all summed up in the fact that I am graduating in the first graduating class of a school whose brith is a story in itself.

But it is a good feeling to know that I and those who will graduate with me helped create this institution, which shall be around for a long time to come.

I cannot say all the memories are pleasant, although we laugh about them here now. A lot of those memories still hurt a bit and I can tell you quite matter of factly that the first summer up here was the worst time of my life and those Vermont winters—much too long. But to me there is some satisfaction in knowing that I was part of a group of people that helped make something work. No one can ever take away the fact that in some way I, and those graduating with me in June, helped to make this school. Granted Doria started the school but I believe that it was beyond any of his wildest intentions to create a viable institution. The professors who taught that first year were the only ray of hope in an otherwise dismal atmosphere. and there is no question in my mind that Dean Debevoise deserves the highest admiration for making a viable institution out of what was left after Doria’s reign. But it is a good feeling to know that I and those who will graduate with me helped create this institution, which shall be around for a long time to come.

You will never have the opportunity to do what I, a handful of faculty and about eighty other students were able to do on a snowy day in March. You will never have the opportunity to show a group of people how interested you were in getting a legal education and how determined you were in making an institution work. Sitting in the lecture hall on that snowy day, we caused probably the most important turning point in Vermont Law School history. The eighty or so people in that lecture hall helped to pull this school out from the mud and dirt and breathe life into it. That day was the first day that Vermont Law School was actually a law school. Each and every one of the persons graduating Jun. 5 stayed on to keep this institution alive. The fact that these students stayed and are now graduating is one of the big reasons this school exists. For without the class of 1976 there would probably be no class of ’77 or ’78 or any future class.

I can look back at this school and really see a part of me here.

Perhaps you two feel I am blowing my own horn but in fact I am not. I didn’t make this school viable, all those persons graduating on Jun. 5 helped make this school viable. Think of it; would you have paid $2,100 to go to a law school that had only two full-time professors, a few books, no library to speak of, no accreditation, little chance of accreditation in the future and a dean with questionable motives? Well, we did stay and that is why the school exists today.

Don’t get me wrong Glen. You are graduating from a prominent law school, you didn’t have to worry if your school would get accreditation, the job market does not look as tough for you as it does for me and maybe you received a better legal education (but I had good profs and bad profs and you said you had good profs and bad profs), I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I was a bit envious, so I won’t give you that old cliche, “I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world” because it is not true. But I wasn’t there, I was here. I and eighty other people made the best of it and helped make something out of this place, something you can’t say you did at your law school. I can look back at this school and really see a part of me here.

And to you Nat. You left us when things really started to get hot, well, that was your decision. We all took chances, you took the safe way out and I took the hard way out and now . . . well, you’ll just get a diploma at your graduation, but me . . . well, I’ll be getting a little bit more.

H.P. Morrison

P.S. If you two come to graduation bring the fifty dollars I won. I have the law diploma to prove I won the bet.

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