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Rutgers Law School Camden Class of 2020

At some point in life, you are going to need a lawyer. Having been on the inside of this Class of 2020 crop of emerging attorneys, I can tell you without a doubt, this is the crew you want in your corner.

Most of the students in this class are the traditional law school student – falling somewhere in their mid-20’s. But they have grown up as part of one of the most sensational generations in our American history. They were raised in a “new” America – one where terror touched our shores, changed our sense of security, and permanently altered travel into and out of our country, impacting how we view day to day life. And in their life times, they have seen tremendous change in this nation. These kids were front line witnesses to the first African American president, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, and the first footsteps into the world of social media.

These are the kids that first learned the lock down drills, who are too familiar with the chant of “Locks, lights, out of sight warning that prepared them for an active shooter in their schools. And they are the kids that saw their same sex parents legally permitted to marry – unlike in any generation before them. DNA testing just for the fun of it became a thing, allowing them to explore their history and culture in a previously inaccessible manner – while opening up the legalities of giving access to our personal privacy.

They have lost loved ones at an astounding rate to opioid addiction and gun violence. It has shaped the way their generation looks at the war on drugs and on gun laws. They have raised their own platforms to stand on to speak against the things that take away those they love most.

Like no generation before them, they have experienced unprecedented access to information and the knowledge of how to use it. They have always had Google, smartphones, and the ability to speak face to face with people in every corner of this world. They can influence and affect people continents away and generations apart, despite vastly different cultures – and they do.

I’ve watched these students participate in community outreach, fighting for the rights of immigrants, victims of domestic violence, and children. They have traveled the globe in pursuit of legal knowledge by studying in places like South Africa and Cuba. They have given up their spring breaks in service to under served communities. They worked tirelessly writing wills for heroes, doing taxes for senior citizens, and spent time dedicated to law clinics helping veterans.

And to cap it all off, the end of the academic road for so many of them has been accomplished under the most trying circumstances. In the past month, they’ve attended class online, been left in limbo by the cancellation and rescheduling of bar exams, and worried about the post-grad job offers and careers they were about to embark upon. The very celebration of their accomplishments – their graduation – was stifled by the boom of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have had to learn, after working so hard and achieving so much, that not everything they succeed in gets a pat on the back.

And don’t think I’m overlooking you non-traditional student lawyers – obviously, I am one. We’ve brought much to this experience. The world has grown and changed significantly in our time on the planet, and we have benefited from watching generations both behind us and before us tackle challenges and celebrate triumphs. Some of us, old enough to remember rotary telephones and Red Food Dye #2, bring the battle scars of raising children with the PTSD that comes from from living in a post-9/11 world. We remember a simpler time, but know how much our world of racial discrimination and gender inequality needed to change. We know race riots and read history books that painted things with one color – white, heterosexual male. We brought a perspective that was different, and we issued a challenge to ourselves to keep striving towards making the changes that we want to see in this country – in this world.

To my classmates – my friends – from Rutgers Law Camden Class of 2020 – you deserve the celebration you can’t have. You inspire and awe, and it has been such a privilege to learn beside you and watch you grow. Your accomplishments will be many, your power to influence our community boundless. I am so proud of each and every one of you, and grateful to those of you who have lived their best lives these past three years and allowed me to watch. It has truly been an honor, and I cannot wait to see the new paths you blaze.

Robert J. Price, Esq. – Rest In Peace

Sitting on my dresser are two cards. They are save the dates for our 30 year vow renewal celebration that is to take place in December of this year. One, fully addressed, was meant to be sent to my husband’s oldest brother. The other, which bears only a name, was meant to go to his brother Robert. I didn’t have a current address for Robert to put on the envelope, because the relationship among the three brothers has been fractured for many years. But my husband wanted me to reach out, invite them to our celebration, and maybe they would see it as an olive branch – a way to heal the brokenness among them, a way back to some sort of brotherly relationship.

Custy with Bob (on his lap) and CJ (in front)

Robert was 11 years older than Jim. While a two year old Jim was taken by his mother with his older brother when his parents divorced, Bob was left behind at his father’s house. They didn’t really “grow up” together – growing up in two different generations – but at least in the early stages of our relationship, Jim reached out often by phone to seek Bob’s advice or opinion on things.

There are happy memories, to be sure. Bob and his former wife visited us in South Florida, to celebrate our daughter’s First Holy Communion. Jim, a PADI divemaster, took Bob diving, got his certification, and had the opportunity to share an incredible day on the water with his big brother.

Bob Halloween – age 1 (CJ behind him)

We did a cross country trip, where we visited Bob, who by then was an attorney with the public defenders office. The brothers got to connect over things like trains, chess, politics, and dogs. It was a short but happy time – one of only a handful of times the brothers have been together in our 30 year marriage.

Grief is a complicated thing – made even moreso when it comes at the end of a complicated relationship. Bob led a full and fulfilled life in California, but it would have been awesome to have him spend time with our daughters – to watch them grow into young women he would have wanted to know. He could have held Calder and Emersyn – his great nephew and niece – watched them learn to walk, get their first teeth, say their first words. He could have been a mentoring influence for both Jim and Brighid as they went through law school – and yeah, I might have bent his ear a time or two as I struggled with my own law school trials and tribulations.

When Bob died on Friday from COVID-19, a passenger on Holland America Cruise Line’s Zaandam, Jim lost more than a brother. He felt he lost his brothers many years ago. He lost the chance to try to make things right., the chance to reach out and see if they could find common ground despite the chaos and turmoil. – the churning water under the bridge, the missed opportunities to even see what may have happened in five years, in ten years, as they both reached their golden years, mellowed, and perhaps opened up their hearts to let each other in.

Jim doesn’t pray. But I do. And I pray for Bob’s family and friends, the co-workers with whom he shared his life for the past 25 years, the people whose lives were touched and impacted by his. I pray their broken hearts heal and the hole left in their hopes and dreams finds a way to fill in.

Bob, I have wondered since the beginning whether things would have been different had you been raised differently. If you and Jim had been gifted with a mother who fostered a relationship between you instead of driving a wedge; if she had helped you patch things up when there was a tear instead of ripping open wounds even deeper. You will be missed – what might have been will be missed.