Thursday May 25, 2017

Peace Prize Winning Professor's Parting Words

As John Terzano prepares to leave the University of Dayton School of Law, it's a line from "To Kill A Mockingbird" that he hopes will stick with students.

On the wall of John Terzano’s office, not far from the Nobel Peace Prize, stood something he was just as proud to display, a framed napkin.

It’s not that the Peace Prize isn’t valuable, although good luck cleaning your hands with it. It’s just that the Peace Prize was in some ways the end of a journey.

A group Terzano co-founded, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, was awarded it. They helped start a campaign to ban landmines after opening a prosthetics clinic in Cambodia.

"Virtually all the people coming into the clinic were victims of landmines," Terzano says. "We thought maybe there’s something we can do around that issue."

The napkin on the other hand marks the start of a journey. Terzano used it to map out one of the organizations he helped found, the Justice Project.

"I can't remember the restaurant," Terzano says. "But good things do come out of dinner conversations."

Now Terzano is once again setting out on a new journey. He’s stepping down from his position as a professor at the University of Dayton School of Law at the end of June.

"It’s an extraordinary place to work," Terzano says.

Terzano says he’ll miss teaching law to students there.

"Just watching them grow and learn and see that light bulb go off at some point in their law school career and then walk across the stage, there’s nothing like it," Terzano says.

For Terzano and those at the School of Law, the law is more than a profession, it’s a calling.

"I often tell students you can have it up here to be a lawyer, but if you don’t have it here you’re not going to make it," says Terzano pointing at his heart.

That leads to what might be Terzano's favorite decoration, even above the Peace Prize and the napkin.

It's a page from “To Kill a Mockingbird" that he got from a student. It includes a line about the office of Atticus Finch.

"Atticus's office in the courthouse contained little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a checkerboard, and an unsullied Code of Alabama."

To Terzano the sparsely decorated office shows what really matters when it comes to the law.

"I’d always tell students that’s what being a lawyer is like," Terzano says. "It’s you, the client and the law. There’s nothing else involved."

Which is why for Terzano an idea, whether on a napkin or a piece of paper, can have as much power as any prize.

"There’s so much out there still to learn," Terzano says.

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