Cherie Blair is just one person, one female, one voice, but the Jane Ellen Bergman Memorial Lecture Series speaker Wednesday night served as a powerful and positive reminder for all.
Her talk, titled, “Forging the Future: Human Rights, Justice and the Law,” delved into her perspectives on life, learning and the law. Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and mother of their four children, was a first-generation college student in her family, studied law at the London School of Economics, is an accomplished barrister, a part-time judge, campaigns for equality and human rights issues and, since 2008, oversees the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
She credits her Catholic-based schooling, the opportunity to pursue higher education — “if not for my education I wouldn’t be here; it’s a passport to a better future,” — along with role models such as a “glass ceiling smasher,” U.K. barrister Rose Heilbron, for giving her self-confidence and the lifelong desire to help others and make a difference.
“People say it all the time that they don’t see lawyers as Changemakers,” Blair said. “But the rule of law and lawyers help to bring stability. All lawyers share something in common and that’s a commitment to justice. The law is my passion and I see it as being crucial to a just and stable world.”
Her vast experiences as a female lawyer, judge, a founding member of Matrix Chambers and the fact that she remained in service as a lawyer during her husband’s time as prime minister (1997-2007) exemplify her passion to do good. She works closely with more than 20 charities. Speaking on the importance of human rights and equality, she noted Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “inequality anywhere is a threat to equality everywhere.”
Blair’s appearance Wednesday, a joint venture between USD School of Law and Joan B. Kroc School for Peace Studies, was her second visit to campus in a year’s time. She was here last September to honor the law school’s partnership with the African Justice Foundation (AJF), a first among U.S. law schools. School of Law Dean Stephen Ferruolo introduced Fekadu Senbeta from the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice. A scholarship recipient through the USD-AJF partnership, Senbeta has been studying in USD’s LLM program since January.
The audience in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall’s Warren Auditorium was a mix of law students, Kroc School of Peace Studies master’s students from its Peace and Justice degree program and undergraduate students with a keen interest in international relations, politics and public policy. Earlier in the day, Blair met with law students and had lunch with USD President Mary E. Lyons, Ferruolo, new School of Peace Studies Dean Edward Luck and several law faculty members.
She also met with USD’s four 2012 Women PeaceMakers, who are in residence at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice now through early November. The women, who comprise the IPJ program’s 10th anniversary group, represent Kenya, Nepal, Moldova and Colombia. Each one brings to campus their story as a woman who is working and striving for peace, justice, and has a desire to lead with their voice and actions for good. Blair had also met with the Women PeaceMakers earlier in the day. All four women said Blair asked, individually, questions to assess their respective situations, hear of the their work, struggles and determination to make things better.
“She was very well-informed,” said Kenya’s Alice Nderitu. “She asked a lot of questions. She was very interested in what was going on in our countries.”
Blair then sought the four PeaceMakers out at a post-event reception, telling them that parts of her speech were meant to connect with their respective situations.
Colombia’s Nancy Sánchez said she empathized when Blair stated: “Human rights principles are easy to grasp, but difficult to apply.” Hearing Blair acknowledge this difficulty and express her frustration didn’t make Sánchez waver. It demonstrated to her that there are many others like herself who are committed to human rights justice and that when a case result is favorable, Sánchez said, “it renews our hope.”
“Human rights,” stated Blair, “must always matter to every lawyer.”
— Ryan T. Blystone