Judge Morial Delivers 295th Commencement Address

295th Commencement Address delivered by Honorable Monique G. Morial, Merry Mac of 1988

"Good evening, President Dr. Karen Jakuback, Principal Dr. Judy Armstrong, faculty and staff, and especially the graduating seniors of Ursuline Academy. It is my distinct honor and privilege to address the 295th graduating class at Ursuline. Congratulations, Skipperettes! How proud you must be, how excited to begin a new chapter. This is a seminal moment in your lives. Just take one moment to absorb the enormity of this moment and to cherish it. This is an incredible achievement. You have successfully made the transition from childhood to womanhood. Parents, please take this moment to congratulate yourselves also. The hopes and dreams that you have fostered for your daughters have come to fruition tonight. Tonight these young women chart a new path - one full of hope, promise, and success. I am thankful that I am able to share in the joy and promise of this moment with all of you tonight.

It was not so long ago that I walked these same halls, sat in Coke Lobby, and celebrated the camaraderie of Rally with my classmates, the MACS of 1988, the 261st graduating class of Ursuline. I recall sitting on this same stage anxiously anticipating what the future had in store for me. Whatever happens next, wherever life may take you, you are an elite member of a powerful sisterhood and legacy. This sisterhood will sustain and guide you in your life to come. As Ursuline women, we come from a unique tradition with a lasting legacy. I am grateful for this opportunity to share with you how it has shaped my life and give you some things to think about as you journey through life.

The word legacy can be daunting. It looms large. This I understand as my family’s legacy is woven into the fabric of the City of New Orleans. It is a legacy that I cherish, and hope to perpetuate. My father, Ernest N. Morial was the first African-American mayor in New Orleans. My eldest brother, Marc Morial, and I have a passion for the law. He served in the Louisiana legislature, had a successful civil rights law practice, as well as becoming mayor also. Today, he heads the National Urban League. My mother, Sybil Haydel Morial, had a passion for education, and was dedicated to advancing voting and civil rights for women as well as African-Americans. My other siblings are successful in their own right, and also actively contribute to their communities. I only highlight here a snippet of my family’s accomplishments to illustrate our commitment to public service. I, like you as an alumna of this exemplary institution, have learned the value of service from both my parents and from my time here at Ursuline. Service to my family, to the public, my community and to my Alma Mater, has enriched my life. Serving as President of the Alumnae Board at Ursuline has been one of the proudest achievements of my life. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, 'The best way to find yourself is through the service of others.' By living Ursuline’s motto: Serviam: I will serve, I have come full circle in both my personal and my professional life.

I am a proud public servant.  As Judge of First City Court in New Orleans, it is both an honor and a privilege to have served my constituents for the past eleven years. As a judge, I am committed to the rule of law. As both an attorney and a judge, I have learned that while the pursuit of justice is noble, it is by aiding those in need and respecting the dignity of the litigants who appear in my courtroom, that fuels me and fulfills me. It is my hope that when I perform my professional obligations that I am interpreting the law fairly, consistently, and impartially. Presiding as a judge is an awesome responsibility that also affords me the opportunity to provide a valuable service to my community. I have also served my community in board service to several non-profit organizations in our community that has provided great fulfillment to my duty to serve. 

In the service of my professional responsibilities as well as my volunteer activities, I found that one of Ursuline’s most important values is essential: Courtesy. You all have grown up during this social media area. Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are a part of your daily lives. One of the drawbacks to social media is that it has emboldened its users to engage in angry and caustic language with each other. There is a lack of civil discourse. Alfred Lord Tennyson once said: 'The greater person is one of courtesy.' Be the greater person. Respect your peers, your colleagues, your professors, even strangers. It costs you nothing, and the rewards are great. The courtesy that you give to others is a reflection of your character. This is vitally important because your character will determine the course of your life and inform your professional success. 

My path to success has veered off course from time to time. It takes some time to find yourself. And that’s okay. It is also okay if you do not have any idea what you are going to do next when you walk out of these doors. One of the many lessons that I am grateful for learning at Ursuline is that I had choices. I chose my own path and so will you. That in itself may not seem significant, but try to imagine for a moment all of those women who came before us. Those who had to fight to be educated, to own their own property. Those who fought for our right to vote. We sometimes forget that the choices, the opportunities, the freedoms we have as women today, are those of which other women could merely dream. Women like Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Barbara Jordan, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justin Ginsberg once said: 'Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.' For brevity, I have only named a few of them. It is impossible to name all of these exceptional women who have fought over the years so that we could live and fully realize our potential. Today you make them proud. Today you honor their sacrifices. As you embark on this new chapter of your life, recognize how far we have come as women. We have succeeded in spaces once denied us: in the legislature, the judiciary, the board room, the operating room, even into the upper echelons of the military and the government. Yes we have much to celebrate, but we have many miles to go before we sleep.

Another important lesson that I learned from attending Ursuline Academy is that I have a voice. Growing up as the baby in a family of five children was challenging. Not only did I have to step out of my siblings’ shadows, sometimes I had to fight to be heard, to express my point of view, to be seen as an individual in my own right. Both of my older sisters attended Ursuline. Both were stellar academically, and I had to distinguish myself. It can be challenging at times to find your voice when you are attempting to meet the expectations of your parents, your teachers and your peers. It can be difficult to find your voice even while you are in pursuit of your own goals. But, you have been given a voice to make a contribution to this world. That voice will help you to face adversity, to pursue your dreams and to establish your career path. It takes some of us longer than others to realize how the power of our voice, and the contributions we make to this world, affect positive change in our communities. It is never too late to assert your voice. Maggie Kuhn was a feminist in the 1930s and 1940s championing social issues and women’s rights. It was later in her life, however, when she found her voice to effect change for a cause near and dear to her heart. In the 1970s, after she was forced to retire once she attained the age of 65, she became a passionate activist for elderly rights. I share this quote from her here to encourage each of you to use your voice even when it seems futile or impossible: 'Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind-even if your voice shakes.  When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework!'

Maggie Kuhn and the other great women who have gone before us have exemplified one of Ursuline’s most fundamental ideals: Courage. Walk out of these doors tonight and step into your future with confidence and a sense of purpose. Know that you will face challenges and at times adversity, but do not let uncertainty of the future or fear deter you.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said: 'You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.' I am confident that each of you in this room will surpass your goals and conquer the fear of unknown because you have made it this far. I look out at this auditorium tonight and I see fearless, and courageous young women.

I now look back at my time and high school and finally appreciate that Ursuline set a standard for excellence that is without peer. It has given me an educational foundation that was rooted in faith, tradition and love. I am simply amazed by the talent, the grace, the beauty, the character, the strength and determination in this auditorium tonight. Your Ursuline education has given you the tools to achieve the goals that you have set for yourselves. While you look to the future, do not forget the memories that you made here, the friendships that you have formed, and the teachers who have inspired you. Always remember this Ursuline ideal: Loyalty. Cicero, a Roman statesman and scholar once said, 'Nothing is more noble, more venerable than loyalty.' The relationships that you have formed at Ursuline with your classmates, with your teachers, and the staff and administration will last a lifetime, if you remember to always honor and cherish them.  

In a short while, you will exit this auditorium carrying a lifetime of memories with you. I want you to know that even though your time in high school has to come to an end, this is only the beginning of your future and its limitless possibilities. If there is one message that I could leave with you tonight is that no matter wherever life takes you, whatever path you travel, the colleges you attend, your chosen vocation, Skipperettes of 2022, do not let anyone define you. You have already demonstrated that you are a group of phenomenal young women, through your scholastic achievement, athletic prowess, musical ability, and your commitment to your Ursuline community. I stand here in awe of you, your talent, your grace, beauty, character, as well as the strength and determination in this auditorium tonight. 

Lastly, I want to share my version of the last stanza in one of my favorite poems, Phenomenal Woman, written by the phenomenal Maya Angelou. When you lift that cap off your head for the final time, shed your childhood and step into womanhood, I hope these words echo in your head and inspire you to walk in your purpose unapologetically.

'Now you understand, Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about, Or have to talk real loud. When they see you passing, It shall make them proud. I say, It’s in the click of your heels, the bend of your hair, the palm of your hand, the need of your care. Cause you are a woman phenomenally. PHENOMENAL WOMEN, YOU WILL BE!'"
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