Samantha Power Encourages Law School Grads to Master Uncertainty

Keren E. Rohe

Samantha J. Power, a 1999 graduate of Harvard Law School and National Security Council Director for Multilateral Affairs in the Obama Administration, speaks to the HLS class of 2010 for this year's class day.

Harvard Law School graduate and national security expert Samantha Power urged the Law School class of 2010 to heed their moral compasses and remember that everyone is battling a “batcage” of insecurities—no matter how confident they appear.

Power, who graduated from the Law School in 1999, is the special assistant to the President and the senior director for multilateral affairs on the National Security Council, and the founder of Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Power said that like many of the “overachievers” in the crowd, as a child she, too, was eager to make a name for herself. In fact, as a five-year-old, she took the liberty of scrawling “Samantha Power did this” in orange crayon atop her mother’s newly printed, 300-plus page doctoral dissertation, she recalled.

But Power reminded the graduating class to be sensitive to the hidden fears and insecurities harbored by all overachievers.

When Power first started at the Law School, fresh off the job as a war correspondent, she said she felt less prepared than her classmates, despite having survived a war zone in the former Yugoslavia.

“When you get into real world, it’s easy to believe you are the only one who doesn’t belong,” she said. “Remember, you see only their outsides—there could be a fleet of bats inside.”

She described the anxiety of approaching new tasks as a constant struggle, but one that can continually be mastered.

“Every one of you has a backstory, and probably a batcage,” she said. “Life is not about mastering uncertainty, it is about channeling it.”

Power urged the graduates-to-be to avoid “selling out,” or engaging in work that requires them to check their hearts at the door. She said consciences are never quiet for long, and that when one’s inner values start to “gnaw” and say “This is the only life you have!” it is time to “make yourselves vulnerable again” and change paths.

Power also urged students to engage fully in every task they approach, and to occassionally turn off the “modern muscle set” that allows for impressive feats of multitasking.

Law School Class Marshal Jessica E. Nachman said she was struck by how Power “spoke to us as peers.”

“What I took away is to never surrender our individuality and our skepticism and our power to achieve things that align with our passions,” Class Day Speaker Nilab N. Rahyar said.

Power concluded by reminding students that “these are the good old days,” emphasizing that the one thing about life we can control is how often we pause to appreciate it.

“Paths are not linear—there are a lot of jagged edges and detours along the way,” Power said after the speech. “You can’t script what you do with your law degree. You just have to listen to what your gut is telling you.”

—Staff writer Julie R. Barzilay can be reached at jbarzilay13@college.harvard.edu.

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