Following is the speech Professor Tony Ghiotto wrote after Campbell Law students voted him “Professor of the Year” to give at the annual 2020 Family Day Banquet that unfortunately had to be canceled due to COVID-19. Enjoy!
“This is the second award I’ve won in my legal career. The first was when I was a young military lawyer. I was selected as the Air Force Legal Operation Agency’s Company Grade Officer of the Year in 2011. It was a big deal in our insular Air Force JAG Corps world. When I found out I won, I immediately believed that I was in fact the best Air Force Company Grade Officer. And I acted as such. A few days after I won the award, we had an office staff meeting and the conversation turned to future assignment and promotion opportunities. I made a comment – and it was perhaps the first and last time I referred to myself in the third person – that the Company Grade Officer of the Year didn’t exactly have to stress anymore about where he was going or whether he was getting promoted. My boss, a wonderful mentor then and as well as now, who was a colonel and instrumental in me receiving the award looked at me and in front of our entire office, said, “a good lesson to learn is that you’re never as good as an award package says you are.” From that point on, I never believed my own hype and was certain that it was perhaps being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people that led to awards, and not necessarily deserving them.
“I feel that must certainly be the case this year with the Professor of the Year voting so I accept this award with much humility and unworthiness. We are a faculty of dedicated and compassionate teachers. There are so many of our faculty members who teach, who serve, who care, who write, and who often go unrecognized, and they are more deserving than me of this award. I get the benefit of being a former trial lawyer who knows how to sway a jury and I get to teach topics like Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, which tend to have more lively and interesting fact patterns, but so many others bring arcane and difficult legal principles to life on a daily basis and they inspire me. And I thank them for their commitment to our students, to compassionate rigor, to being a teacher, and to being wonderful mentors to me. These faculty members push me to be a servant to Campbell and to our students and I thank our faculty for that.
“I also thank our students at Campbell Law. I am saddened that I do not get to receive this award in person and share the recognition with all of you who made this possible. I congratulate all the other award winners – the students, the staff, and the faculty members – who are all deserving. I celebrate each of you and hope you all receive the recognition that you deserve.
“But we are obviously not meeting in person because of something much bigger and much more important than awards and recognition. The coronavirus has done more than confine us all to our homes – it has brought uncertainty, anxiety, fear, suffering, and death across the globe and we should all send our prayers to those impacted. As is often the case, though, prayers are likely not enough and it’s a good time ask how our skills as attorneys and advocates can serve those in need. In fact, this call to service can also provide perspective for why we put ourselves through the misery of three years of law school and why we all do what we do on a daily basis.
“If you are becoming a lawyer for the praise, for the public recognition, for the constant pat-on-the back that you’re doing a great job, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. The law is often a difficult and isolating career. In my own career, I think often about the most difficult cases I prosecuted – the sexual assault cases where no one believed the survivor who was subjected to an invasive and long discovery process only to be followed by hours and hours of brutal cross-examination, the child pornography cases that involved days locked away reviewing the most heinous evidence humanly possible, the child molestation cases where you were asking a child to testify in court against her own father, the countless cases I had in Afghanistan where Taliban members had slaughtered innocent Afghans and American service members – and I never think about what I personally got out of those cases. I never think of awards or recognition I received. In fact, I don’t believe I ever won any awards or recognition from these cases. I was just doing my job. It was only when I was in a high-profile assignment writing emails and legal reviews for generals that I received any recognition or awards.
“And it’s not just me. It’s the public defender who is representing a client that everyone assumes is guilty, it’s the in-house counsel whose client despises attorneys and is pushing every legal obstacle possible, it’s the plaintiff’s counsel who is representing someone badly injured by corporate negligence, it’s the young attorney representing immigrants in detention facilities in Lumpkin, Georgia, and throughout this country, it’s the legal aid attorney obtaining a no-contact order for an abused spouse who has nowhere else to turn. None of these attorneys are doing it for the praise. None of them are doing it for the awards. Because much of the time, that praise, those awards, are not coming. They’re certainly not doing it for the money.
“They’re doing it for service. That’s why we are here. That’s why the majority of us have been called to the law. And don’t doubt it – the law is a calling and it is a noble calling. The law is speaking truth to power, it is giving voice to the voiceless, it is being the last protective barrier against the increased and repeated erosion of the Rule of Law, both in the United States and abroad. It is in those difficult and isolating moments – where it appears to be you alone against the world – that service provides its reward, where it provides the motivation to keep going, to keep fighting the fight, to keep sawing the piece of wood in front of you. Service fills that void, provides that motivation, because it gives you something bigger than yourself, bigger than your ego, your bank account, your apartment, or your 401K. You are making the difference, whether it’s for your client, for the state, for the United States, or for the Rule of Law. That is your award and I hope all of you are awarded repeatedly with this commitment to service throughout your legal careers.
“For those of you who don’t know, I spent twelve years on active duty before I joined the Campbell Law faculty in 2017. I often get asked if I miss it. My usual answer was, ‘not really, but I do miss the commitment to service.’ There was something special to serving in the military. Everyone may have joined for different reasons, but when we all joined, we all adhered to the core value of ‘service before self,’ and we all worked together to serve our country. I have to admit, I missed that when I went into academia. There are many parts to academia that are isolating – class preparation, scholarship, research, faculty meetings – and you often feel like an independent contractor as opposed to a member of a unified team. But in the past few weeks, as I’ve seen our Campbell Law community, especially our students, come together in wake of the pandemic, I get the same sense of pride. The same sense that we are in this together and we are going to work together to get through this. I am proud of all of you.
“I especially think of our third-year class. Our third-year class is the first class I taught and I distinctly remember many of you in Criminal Law. To see how far you have all grown as advocates and how much you’ve all overcome, I am filled with pride and sadness that you’re soon to depart Campbell Law. But in the past few weeks, I’ve seen your class lose Barristers Ball, the experience of a final “in-person” class, award banquets, and then have to complete the semester and prepare for finals in complete uncertainty about two of the biggest moments in your lives – graduation and the bar exam.
“Nonetheless you’ve all kept working and studying and you’ve persevered. You’ve inspired me and reminded me what my job is all about. It’s still about service. It may not be about putting a bad person in prison or making sure the Taliban is locked away, but it’s about developing you all to be dedicated, compassionate, humble servants, and attorneys. Through your actions and dedication, you have all reminded me again and again that it’s not about me, but it’s about preparing you for the countless successes that you will have in your legal career and for those lives that you will directly impact. I do not take this commitment lightly and I look forward to serving the second- and first-year classes, and hopefully classes for years to come at Campbell Law.
“In the Catholic faith, you receive the sacrament of confirmation at around the age of thirteen. The sacrament recognizes that as an adult, you are confirming the faith you entered upon at baptism and you’re required to take the name of a saint as a confirmation name. I chose the name Ignatius after St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. There’s a St. Ignatius quote that spoke to me at thirteen, spoke to me when I chose to become an attorney, when I chose to commit my legal career to service, and continues to speak to me. And I share it with you as well: ‘God’s purpose in creating us is to draw forth from us a response of love and service here on earth, so that we may attain our goal of everlasting happiness with him in heaven. All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully. As a result, we ought to appreciate and use these gifts of God insofar as they help us toward our goal of loving service and union with God.’
“As you either continue your legal education at Campbell Law or graduate this spring, go forth and set the world on fire. You have been gifted with the skills to become outstanding attorneys and advocates and you’ve honed and furthered those skills at Campbell Law. It’s soon to be time that you go out into the world and have to decide what type of lawyer you will be. Will you choose to be a lawyer motivated by glory and money? Or will you choose to be a lawyer committed to using those gifts for love and service? My lasting plea to you all is to choose love and service. It’s why we all do what we do and it’s where you will find true meaning and purpose.
“Thank you again with all I have. And finally, in the immortal words of George Harrison, ‘All things must pass.’ We will all get through this together.”
Professor Ghiotto joined the Campbell Law faculty in Fall 2017 and teaches Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, National Security Law and Trial Advocacy. His scholarship explores constitutional dysfunction and potential remedies in the realms of Fourth and Fifth Amendment jurisprudence as well as in national security matters. His most recent publication is forthcoming in the Harvard National Security Journal.
Prior to joining the Campbell Law faculty, Professor Ghiotto spent nearly 12 years as a judge advocate with the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. While serving as an active duty judge advocate, Professor Ghiotto prosecuted a wide range of felonies, served as an Air Staff legal advisor to the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General and performed special duties at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Legal Policy Board, in its investigation and report to the Secretary of Defense regarding the military services responses to civilian casualties caused by American service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his last active duty assignment, Professor Ghiotto served as the Staff Judge Advocate for the Air Force’s preeminent flying training installation where he served as the principal legal advisor to the Wing Commander and all subordinate commanders, directly supervised a legal office consisting of 20 legal professionals, and was responsible for the provision of legal services to more than 3,000 active duty personnel and their dependents. He also deployed to Parwan Province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where he represented the United States in more than 100 Detainee Review Board hearings.
Professor Ghiotto is a proud product of Chicago’s south suburbs. He earned his bachelor of arts in history and political science from the University of Illinois, his Master of Military Operational Art and Science from the Air Force’s prestigious Air Command and Staff College, and his Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law. His proudest accomplishment is the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series Championship, followed closely by his two children, Jefferson and Teddy.