Ridge warns against civic indifference in address to Duquesne Law grads

Former governor Tom Ridge give a speech at the commencement ceremony for the Duquesne University School of Law at the A.J. Palumbo Center on June 5, 2016.
Former governor Tom Ridge give a speech at the commencement ceremony for the Duquesne University School of Law at the A.J. Palumbo Center on June 5, 2016.
Photo by Nate Smallwood | Trib Total Media
Elizabeth Behrman
| Sunday, June 5, 2016, 10:39 p.m.

The world holds the American justice system to a higher moral standard and looks to this country as a leader and example in the global fight against terrorism, former Gov. Tom Ridge told the 2016 graduates of the Duquesne University School of Law on Sunday morning.

Fear is not an excuse to compromise the country's values and deny others their personal liberty, he said, pointing to the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay prison as two examples of how leaders have walked that slippery legal slope in the past.

“Even terrorists are entitled to due process,” Ridge said. “That's America, that's who we are. It's not for them, but for us.”

Ridge, who put his law degree to use as a private attorney, an assistant district attorney, a congressman, a governor, and the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was the keynote speaker at the law school's commencement.

Ridge, who served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, told the graduates to be vigilant as citizens and representatives of the American justice system.

“America is an exceptional country, but that does not mean we are perfect,” Ridge said.

In addition to their new responsibilities as “sentries” for justice and upholders of the Constitution, Ridge reminded the graduates of their civic duty to participate in elections for the country's leaders.

“Indifference has consequences,” Ridge warned the 125 graduates.

Many people have indicated that they aren't pleased with either party's presumptive nominee for the presidential elections this year, he said. But 85 percent of eligible voters didn't show up at the polls during the primary elections.

“Please never let your preoccupation with your busy life keep you from taking the time twice a year to vote,” Ridge said.

He read studies and surveys that show that “millennials” — the generation now in their 20s and 30s — don't trust the government. Maybe the country's political leaders deserve that contempt, Ridge said, but it is not a good reason to be indifferent and sit out for Election Day.

“It's not good when ‘House of Cards' looks like a documentary,” he said, referring to the political drama on Netflix.

Adam Tragone, one of the graduates who spoke during the ceremony, said the students' law degrees are vastly different from the ones they received as undergraduates. As Ridge said, a law degree will bring them more responsibilities no matter what they do with it. And the graduation does not mean their hard work for the past three or four years is over.

“The one thing that is unique to our profession is that it's a lifelong profession,” Tragone told the crowd. “We will be learning the nuances of law for the rest of our lives.”

For Sharon Hintemeyer, commencement marked the last day of 19 years of school for her son, Christian.

Hintemeyer appreciated Ridge's message about how the graduates need to be “vigilant” and protect the rights of others. She tries to do the same thing at her job in the medical field.

“Somebody has to advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves,” she said.

Richard Mack, who watched his 25-year-old daughter, Tami, receive her hood and law degree, said Ridge couldn't have presented that message any better. He agreed with everything the former governor said about the country's politics, but also of the noble duties his daughter has as a lawyer.

“It's definitely one of the proudest moments of my life,” Mack said.

Elizabeth Behrman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-320-7886 or Lbehrman@tribweb.com.

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