Crossing the River, an Essay

Crossing the River


I've known rivers
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"

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When I left the University of Minnesota in January to join the University of Louisville as the dean of its law school, I crossed two rivers. To be precise, I crossed two branches of the mightiest river system in North America: the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and Saint Paul and the Ohio River from Indiana into Kentucky.

These cities exist because they lie at the fall lines of the Mississippi and the Ohio. As a native of our larger region, I am at once blessed and haunted by the geographic awareness that comes with the sense of place unique to the American South. For generations the Falls of the Ohio dictated Louisville's destiny. To this day, high ground and flood plain define neighborhoods in our community. Lewis and Clark understood the Falls as the gateway to the west. The industries that built Louisville and Kentucky in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries exploited the power of falling water.

 

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Legal education is a metaphorical river crossing in its own right. The decision to attend law school, irrespective of age or personal circumstances, defines a crucial point of transition in the life and career of any student. For younger students, only recently graduated from college, coming to law school at the University of Louisville represents a commitment to a profession, to an electrifying way of thinking and of doing that distinguishes those of us privileged to have been trained in the law. Likewise, students seeking a change in their career trajectories will find in law school the opportunity to revitalize their professional lives.

 

The University of Louisville proudly provides all of its students with the training and the opportunity to transform themselves. We at the law school, like all of our colleagues throughout this university, are dedicated to the higher training and useful education of our aspiriing youth. The diverse experiences that our students bring to law school matters enormously. Their hopes, their futures, their destinies matter even more.

Our law school, like the community that sustains it and the students and constituents it serves, has grown deep like the rivers. It is the calling of a lifetime to serve this school, this university, and this community. I am profoundly honored to serve as the dean of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

 

Jim Chen