Philip S. Gutierrez was formally inducted as a trial judge on the federal bench for the Central District of California on June 13, 2007. A graduate of Cantwell High School in Montebello, California in 1977, the University of Notre Dame in 1981, and UCLA Law School in 1984, Judge Gutierrez invited several members of the judiciary and the bar to speak at his induction. The only speaker who was not involved in the legal community was the author of this blog, Judge Gutierrez's teacher for all four of his high school years. Following are my remarks at the ceremony.
Induction Of The Hon. Philip Gutierrez
June 13, 2007
I am struck, these three decades later, by how thoroughly Phil has lived out that credo himself, though as I found out in an hour's conversation last night, he has long forgotten exactly what he said that day.
It should surprise no one here, I think, that many of the qualities that characterize Phil today were in evidence in the boy I first knew in the Seventies. He had, for example, the same dogged persistence that at its best was a hall mark of his genuine scholarship but could also at times be trying and even verge on the annoying. When Phil had a point to make, he could argue it until you were tempted to give in to him out of sheer exhaustion. More commonly, when he had a question, he would pursue its implications until he had found an answer that satisfied him, typically an extended and once again frequently exhausting process.
Some of the earliest and most treasured memories of my long career as a teacher were the frequent, almost daily visits to my classroom after school by Phil and a friend or two to pursue further some issue that had arisen in class, or to render some judgment on the state of world affairs, or to vent some anger at whatever the latest outrage that had occurred at out school was. Usually, the echoes of the dismissal bell hadn't even subsided before he was in my room, standing politely for often an hour or more to the side of my desk, to badger, to listen, to argue, to persuade - to do all that was necessary to nurture a developing intellect of the range and depth that I know characterize him to this day. Phil was the first genuine student I had and remains all these years later perhaps the most complete of the nearly ten thousand I have taught.
I was delighted by Phil's continued growth in college. Many of you know that he went to Notre Dame, but I'm not sure if it is as commonly known that he turned down Stanford and Yale to do so. I was pleased by his choice, really not primarily because I went there as well, but rather more because I felt that sending this dynamo of energy and questions into the heart of a bastion of white, traditional, Middle American Catholicism would be good for both him and for the institution. For Phil, I hoped that Notre Dame would challenge him as it had challenged me to live a life of meaning and affect, to become in the oft-quoted words of Gandhi "the change you seek in the world." For our now-shared alma mater, I hoped that Phil would help to break down some of the calcified and narrow perceptions of what it meant to be scholarly, or Catholic, or American. Though I am not sure in what shape Notre Dame survived the encounter, Phil flourished there, and part of the arc of his career is, I think, attributable to a pre-existing moral centeredness that was enhanced and nurtured by his years in
Whether or not Phil exactly intended to do so when he asked me to say a few words today, I am here as a link to that past of his that includes Notre Dame and
On that June evening thirty years ago when Phil addressed his assembled teachers and family and friends and started the journey that has taken him to this place and this day, he began to become the change that he seeks - as one of the first and surprisingly and distressingly few Latino jurists in the federal court system, as a force for what is good and just in society at large, as a role model for other young people of challenges and background similar to his own. When Phil spoke that evening of living as fully humanly as possible, he was paraphrasing, I believe, the last poem we studied in his English class, "I Think Continually" by Stephen Spender, who asserts that to be "truly great," in the words of the poem, it is necessary "never to allow gradually the traffic/To smother with noise and fog the flowering of the spirit." Spender's peroration is splendid and most apropos today - he urges us to emulate
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor."