MSU College of Law

Linda Orlans’ Address

Commencement Ceremonies December 20, 2007

Thank you Dean Thompson for the kind introduction.

Let me add my welcome to all of our graduates … their families … the faculty … and my fellow trustees. I also want to thank President Haley and Dean Thompson for inviting me to be here today. It is a great honor to speak to you.

We’re here to celebrate a major milestone in our graduates’ personal and professional lives.

Let me begin by saying … congratulations! You have worked hard and you are entitled to be proud.

And congratulations to your parents and families as well. Because I know that behind most law school graduates stands a supportive family. Your family deserves our gratitude.

I consider Michigan State my law school. I didn’t know it at the time, but the day I received my degree was probably the most important one of my life. That’s because my life changed profoundly from that day forward … everything about it became much more meaningful.

I chose law because it touches every aspect of our lives … business … government … relationships … our families. Everything. So ten years after getting my bachelor’s degree and finally paying off all of my student loans, I went to DCL at night.

Somehow I managed to get through law school while working a full time job during the day. And it took me another ten years or so to repay my law school student loans!

Of course starting salaries aren’t as good as they are today, so I drove crummy second hand cars for a lot of years before I got everyone paid off!

When I got my degree at DCL, I had no idea the journey would take me where I am today. I really didn’t have a plan. I just knew that I wanted to do something challenging and meaningful.

I’ll bet many of you are thinking the same thing this evening as you get your degrees. You’re wondering, “What’s next?”

As I’ve gone through life, I have often thought to myself, “What if I knew then, what I know now?” What would I do differently?

When asked to speak to you I tried to connect the dots based on my own experiences. What could I say that might benefit you … sitting in the same chair I was in not all that long ago?

I narrowed a long list down to three things I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out. And that’s what I want to share with you now.

First … Do What you Love. I’ve always been a hard worker. But I’ve also stayed with things longer than I should have … even when I was unhappy.

I worked in insurance for ten years. I spent a lot of time reading contracts and finding all those exceptions and exclusions that helped the company save money. It was my job. I was good at it. But I was denying claims to hardworking people that were a lot like my mom and dad. At the end of the day I felt I was doing more harm than good.

Going into law was a way for me to help people … not hurt them. I worked in a large firm right out of law school. But it wasn’t until I got involved in real estate law and started my own title company that I really found the satisfaction I was looking for.

Today, I believe I’m the luckiest person in this room because I get up every morning to do something I love, something I’m passionate about.

But finding work to love was not easy for me. When I got my first job as a lawyer, the most-senior partner told me that women did not belong in the courtroom. The most prestigious private club in Detroit did not let women enter the front door. I learned to ignore those signs because I knew people in my neighborhood needed me to help them.

You know that life is a serious game and doors will not always be open for you … that people or circumstances might discourage you or point you in another direction. Do not give up. Follow your heart.

Find your passion. Do what is right for you. Finding work you love will require that you take risks, that you make mistakes. You will learn from your mistakes … just try not to make the same ones over and over again.

If you don’t do what you love, ultimately you’re not going to be satisfied. You won’t be happy with your work … and it will impact every other facet of your life.

I speak from experience when I say to each of you … search your soul and find out what gives you energy. Don’t let the noise of others drown out your own inner voice. Follow your dreams. Find your passion. Because the sooner you figure out what your life’s calling is … the happier and more fulfilled you will be.

The next advice I wish I had gotten when I was getting my degree was that Relationships Count.

As a young associate right after law school, I took on a huge caseload. I worked 80 hours a week. I was determined to make my mark.

One day in my second year, I attended a company golf outing at a private club. The other young associates knew all of the senior partners. They were high-fiving them … talking about their golf game … chatting away about their social life. It was like they were all best-buddies.

I felt out of place. I had been totally focused on learning the business. But I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know anyone. Not the young associates. And certainly not the senior partners. I wasn’t a member of the team. It really resonated to me that relationships matter.

From that time on, I began reaching out to other people … to learn from their experiences … to help them when I could … and do a better job of understanding the world around me.

One of the things I enjoy about having my own firm is the people whose lives I touch. I take it very seriously that I’m able to employ a couple hundred people. It is important to get to know them, and see their lives improve. I find it enriching and rewarding.

No one does it alone. I’ve discovered it’s downright amazing how smart, motivated and creative people can be when you give them the chance.

So … as you begin your careers … remember that relationships really do matter. Get to know the people around you. Treat them right.

Look for opportunities to reach out to others. Get involved in the world around you. Make connections and make a difference wherever or whenever you can.

Many of my most meaningful relationships have come through opportunities to give, whether it’s tutoring kids … or working to raise funds for our law college …

Of all of my years of fighting and winning battles nothing comes close to feeling as good as giving something back.

If you give something of yourself … in the end, you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Remember your world should never be all law, all politics, all clients … relationships with your family are part of your life too. I speak from experience on this as well when I say … call your mother!

The third piece of advice I wish someone had given me is … Stay Positive. Staying positive is like the foundation of a house … it supports everything else.

As I get older, it becomes more and more apparent that being positive is the key to success. But I wasn’t always this upbeat and optimistic. When I was younger I made assumptions and was often negative about things.

Usually it works the other way around … people get more negative and cynical as they get older. Being negative becomes imbedded in them. And they lose sight of hope … and opportunity.

I continue to work on staying positive every day. I do it by gravitating to people who are positive so I can feed off their energy. I learned to avoid negative relationships and edit negative thoughts.

An experience with my brother Jim early in my career really illustrates how staying positive can create big dividends. And this is Jimmy’s story … When I was still in my 20s and working in insurance, Jim was fresh out of high school and working in a small factory.

We started a little maintenance company cleaning offices at night. We saved until we had about five thousand dollars … a lot of money back then … and bought our first rental property.

It was a house in Madison Heights and it was a real mess. It needed lots more work than we anticipated. Jim wasn’t much of a handyman at the time, but he worked on the furnace, the plumbing, and the electrical system.

Jim and I maxed out every credit card we had to get the property in shape to rent. But we were in way over our heads. In the end, we lost money on the property. I swore I’d never own a piece of real estate again. And for a long time, I didn’t.

Jim reacted differently. He said, “Boy, that was a great opportunity to learn about rental real estate.” He was grateful for the experience to learn about things like water heaters, roofing, and renters.

I’ve never seen anyone in my life get so excited about learning how to fix an old toilet!!!

Jimmy could have given up in disgust and said real estate is not for me. But he didn’t. He bought another property and fixed it up. And another. And another. He soon had 200 properties.

Today he buys and renovates as many as 100 properties a year. And all this has happened because he managed to stay positive. I learned from my brother that if you stay positive and pick yourself up when you fall down, success is not always immediate, but it is certain.

Staying positive is especially important to those of you graduating today. That’s because being positive … and seizing opportunities … go hand-in-hand.

It is important for each of you to stay positive …work at it … and create opportunities for yourself.

Some of you will start your law careers in Michigan. You can’t pick up a newspaper without reading about the challenges we’re facing in this state right now. I’ll bet it’s a little frightening.

But sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing, that we don’t notice the one that is opening.

Back in the ‘70s when I got out of college, the country was in a major recession. It hit Michigan particularly hard. Everyone said Michigan’s best days were over. But Michigan survived … and prospered!

A lot of people launched rewarding careers in those challenging times. Today they’re our leaders and most successful people.

Michigan is now in another difficult economic period. But our state will survive. And Michigan will once again prosper.

This state has a lot going for it. We have natural beauty. We have a very solid technology and research base, including our very own MSU. We have talented, hard-working people here with solid Midwestern values. You can find opportunities here … and you can build a future here.

But your opportunities aren’t limited to Michigan … or even the United States. As graduates of the Michigan State College of Law, you are in an enviable position. You can be proud to have graduated from one of the world’s top universities.

You can play a role in helping to feed the hungry … you can help bring health care to the poor … you can help fight poverty.

You can and should demand a higher standard of human dignity for all people.

In large and small ways … you can make a difference.

The world is full of opportunities. But sometimes the biggest challenge is recognizing them. Great opportunities are often brilliantly disguised as impossible situations. And even when opportunity knocks, you still have to get up and open the door.

It’s important that you take the initiative … that you get up and open the door.

That you turn those impossible situations into opportunities.

This is a world of hope. This is a world full of opportunity.

You have an opportunity to provide leadership by caring about other people … and an opportunity to make a difference in your community … your state … your country … and the world.

My wish for all of you this evening is that you follow your heart. Find your passion… Do what you love … build strong relationships … keep your family close … stay positive … the world is ready for you today to become the leaders of tomorrow.

You have it all! We need you!

Thank you for letting me share this day with you!