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University of San Diego School of Law
Advocate Fall 2017 Issue

Keep on Knocking

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, ’91 (JD), urged members of the Class of 2017 to stay true to their passions

“God gives each of us unique dreams and plans, and it’s up to us to follow through on them. They are powerful and they should always be pursued. If you’re truly blessed, your passion and your job will be the same.” —Mark Brnovich , ’91 (JD)

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, ’91 (JD), delivered the commencement address to the Class of 2017 on Saturday, May 20. Brnovich, son of immigrants from former communist Yugoslavia and a first-generation American, opened his commencement speech by recalling how overwhelmed he was at his own law school graduation and expressing amazement at returning more than 25 years later to give a commencement speech.

“I remember how happy my mother was. I didn’t even speak English as my first language growing up and to be graduating from law school ... now I’m back here 25 years later giving the commencement speech. It really is overwhelming for me emotionally,” Brnovich told the new graduates. “I’ve done a lot of speeches in front of a lot of groups, but I will tell you, this is by far the most special and the one I’ve looked forward to the most.”

Brnovich spoke of his humble beginnings in public service as an assistant attorney general in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. “I had one of the smallest offices in the building. It didn’t have a window; they called it the broom closet,” he said. “I didn’t complain about it and I didn’t worry. My focus was, hey, I’m not going to get into the office gossip or complain about my office or the size of it. I’m just going to do my job and do it well and be a team player. Because [I developed] that reputation, it opened up doors for me and other opportunities.” In 2015, he was elected Arizona’s attorney general, defeating a longtime incumbent.

Prior to his election, he served as director of the Arizona Department of Gaming and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona. He has also been a judge pro tem of Maricopa County Superior Court, deputy Maricopa County attorney, command staff judge advocate in the U.S. Army National Guard, and director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.  

During his career, Brnovich has argued a voter redistricting case before the U.S. Supreme Court, was featured on 60 Minutes in a conversation about capital punishment, and appeared on a Times Square billboard that combated human sex trafficking. 

“One of the things that I wanted to do is to give the graduates a little insight into the things I learned along the way that were very useful,” Brnovich said. In his inspirational address to the 264 new graduates, Brnovich spoke about some other key lessons that helped shape his legal career: 

“Be prepared.” Regardless of what career path you take, remember the Boy Scout motto. Whether you’re a litigator, working in house counsel, working as a public defender or prosecutor, maybe even involved in the baseball industry … you always should be prepared. Whenever you commit to doing something, you should think all the way through to what that end result should be. I do know that you are graduating from the University of San Diego, my alma mater, so I have a lot of faith that you’ll make sure to prepare yourself every day. Unless you’re going up against a troop of Eagle Scouts, my money’s on you guys.

“No case should be too small for you.” A lot of times you get so wrapped up in what you’re doing, whether it’s your life or your legal career, that you think something doesn’t really matter and you mail it in. But you’ve got to remember, for that person you’re representing, that may be the most important thing in [his or her] life. You can have a great impact. At the end of the day, if you’re going to commit to something, commit all the way.

“Be a team player.” There’s research now, that if you’re a malcontent or you’re a complainer, it not only affects you, but the people around you. Try to stay positive and stay around people that are team players, regardless of where you practice law.

"Be a good listener.” In today’s day and age, with 24-hour media and everything that goes on, you almost get bombarded with too much information and sometimes we’re quick to speak and quick to act. We tweet stuffand we regret it. I would remind you of what St. Ignatius of Loyola taught us: 

“Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who speak. Thus you will know when to speak and when to be silent.”

I promise you, learning to be silent and remaining silent and listening to others is a skill, and it’s a skill that’s about more than hearing; it’s listening as well. It sounds like a cliché, but only a fool makes unnecessary enemies, and if you do, it will come back to haunt you.

“Keep your eye on the big picture.” Appreciate the opportunities that you have and the opportunities that are given to you. Time flies by so quickly; don’t waste time on things that you don’t like doing or don’t want to do. “ Identify your passion.” Henry David Thoreau said that “most people lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be that person! Make a commitment

to something you care about and dedicate yourself to it. Find time, find something that’s rewarding and filling. God gives each of us unique dreams and plans, and it’s up to us to follow through on them. They are powerful and they should always be pursued. If you’re truly blessed, your passion and your job will be the same.

Understand the power of persistence.” After I graduated, I got a stack of rejection letters from law firms. Even if that door is locked, you have to keep on knocking. In the words of Calvin Coolidge, “Nothing can take the place of persistence.” Talent will not. Genius will not. Education
alone will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. There may be times in your life that you don’t get what you want, but you’ve got to keep on knocking and you’ve got to keep pushing.