During her keynote address, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman told the graduating class of Parkland Community College that persistence was the key to her success despite facing prejudice in her early law career.
Garman gave the keynote address at Parkland's commencement ceremony on May 14 in Urbana.
"If one door closed, I knocked on another until I found a way forward," Garman said during her keynote address.
Garman also attributed her success to the support of family and friends, but stressed that her own persistence and hard work catapulted her career beyond what her male professors anticipated when they told her she didn't belong in law school and was only there to catch a husband, according to a release.
"You do not need validation from anyone else," Garman said. "You are the source of your own confidence, your own ambition and your own persistence. Obstacles may be placed in your way, but no one can make you quit. No one can make you give up on your dreams."
Despite the prejudice, Garman went on to graduate with an undergraduate degree in economics and a law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1968.
While society has changed since Garman’s early legal career, she told the students they will likely face challenges along the way and encouraged them to persevere.
"You cannot wait for change to open the door for you. You must forge ahead," she said. "If you cannot get past an obstacle, you must find a way to go around it."
She also reminded the graduates not to get discouraged when some people appear to have an easier path in life, saying some will encounter more challenges than others.
"You do not know what burdens other people [are going through]," she said. "Run your own race. Envy of others weakens you; it does not strengthen you."
Reminding students that integrity and hard work is everything, Garman said life is a journey and "no one rides for free … What matters is what we do along the way."
Garman stressed the importance of support and encouraged the graduates to rely on family and friends to help navigate the working world.
"In the end," she said, "I would like to leave you with the words of that great early Twentieth Century philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, a bear of a very little brain, but a very great heart, who said, 'You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.'"