Florida International University’s newest law school graduates got a commencement speech from their dean on Friday, even though he’s moved on to his new job in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
R. Alexander Acosta, the new secretary of labor, was all smiles as he addressed the class of more than 150 law-school graduates. Miami-born and Harvard-educated Acosta served as U.S. attorney in South Florida for four years before becoming FIU’s second law-school dean.
Trump nominated Acosta, the only Hispanic in the cabinet, after fast-food executive Andrew Puzder couldn’t garner enough support in the Senate and dropped out of the running.
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Under his eight-year reign at FIU, the law school went from being unranked to becoming one of the top 100 law schools in the nation, and FIU law students had the highest passage rate in the state for the last three bar exams. During Friday’s graduation, FIU President Mark Rosenberg noted the school’s job placement ranking with pride.
But Acosta warned students not to settle with their first job, no matter how hard-earned.
In the age of acceleration, the law will change more and more rapidly. You cannot stop learning. You cannot fear change.
R. Alexander Acosta, the new U.S. secretary of labor and former law-school dean at Florida International University
Law school doesn’t teach students a skill anymore, Acosta said; it teaches mental agility and critical thinking. Those traits will help prepare students for their first job, and their second and their third, he said.
He talked about major disruptors in the last decade — companies like Apple, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb that changed the game. He warned students that computer-generated contracts and algorithm-assisted arbitration have already entered the market.
“In the age of acceleration, the law will change more and more rapidly,” he said. “You cannot stop learning. You cannot fear change.”
Acosta held true to his promise to offer an unconventional graduation speech. The latter half of his speech was dedicated to calling out achievement and growth in specific students. He highlighted sections of their entrance essays and talked about how well the students had lived up to their goals.
He noted with pride that the 2017 graduating class had the student with the highest bar exam score in Miami-Dade County. Acosta urged students to internalize how amazing they are and use it to their advantage in future career moves. He reminded them multiple times to call or email him with their struggles and successes and called them all members of his extended family.
“I look forward to watching how brilliantly you will lead us in this age of acceleration,” he said.