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Merrick B. Garland ’74, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, visited Harvard Monday afternoon to talk with undergraduates about public service and the law.
Garland was nominated for the Supreme Court in 2016 by President Barack Obama, but the Senate declined to vote on Garland’s nomination, which expired in Jan. 2017.
Around 50 undergraduates gathered in the Winthrop Junior Common Room for the talk hosted by the Office of Career Services.
Garland regaled students with tales from his time as an undergraduate at the College, and then as a student at the Law School. He also reminisced about his experiences working on the infamous Unabomber case, and the time he met J.K. Rowling while she was on campus to give Harvard’s 2008 Commencement address. Garland, a former member of the Board of Overseers—Harvard’s second-highest governing board—was influential in Rowling’s selection as speaker.
Incidentally, the “Harry Potter” series was at the top of Garland’s recommended reading list for students, followed by John Ely’s “Democracy and Distrust.”
Garland, a former Crimson editorial editor, offered multiple pieces of career advice to attendees.
“Please think about pursuing public service,” Garland said. “It doesn’t have to be a lifetime where that’s all you do. There are different ways to do public service, and it’s not that easy to have a career full-time in public service.”
Garland also entreated students to keep their options open by avoiding what he called “golden handcuffs”—financial barriers to pursuing their goals.
“Pay off your loans,” he said. “Don’t lock yourself into payments that you can’t afford on a public interest or government salary.”
He also advised students to stay open-minded.
“You really don’t know what you’re going to be interested in,” Garland said, reflecting on his own career, which he said took many twists and turns. “You have to take opportunities when they come. Don’t worry about the title.”
Several students said they attended the discussion because of their own interest in pursuing legal careers.
“It was comforting for him to say, sometimes you don’t know until you try something and you realize, ‘Wow, I actually have this whole interest that I didn’t really realize I had before,’” said Danielle D. Davis ’21, who attended the event.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, who moderated the event, said he first reached out to Garland about a possible visit “a couple of years ago.” The original plan had been for Garland to give a larger lecture for undergraduates.
Garland, however, had a different idea in mind.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to give a lecture. I really want to have a chance to talk to students,’” Harris said.
“Chief Judge Garland’s openness and comfortability with the students was evident,” said Zachary D. Steigerwald Schnall ’21, who also attended the event. “His willingness to dive into the past, in terms of stories that he told, really was eye-opening to me.”
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