BY DAVID MITCHELL
Former President George Herbert Walker Bush lauded the Valparaiso legal community Saturday night as maintaining the ideals vital to the American way of life.
"Those of you who study, teach and practice law are an invaluable, indispensable part of the process," Bush said to a packed crowd at Chicago's Field Museum to celebrate Valparaiso University School of Law's 125th anniversary.
Bush, the 41st president of the United States, spent considerable time speaking about how "the grand experiment of self government" could not exist without the legal system, and the ethics taught at schools like Valparaiso University.
The nation needs to return to a system of ethics, justice and values, Bush said, and law schools are vital to maintaining those characteristics and upholding the virtues of a nation based in law.
Flanked by Valparaiso University President Alan Harre and Law School Dean Jay Conison, the former president entered the museum's main hall to a rousing ovation.
Elected officials, prominent attorneys and public figures, like Valparaiso University basketball coach Homer Drew and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., were on hand for Bush's speech.
Bush said he was proud to be asked to speak at the event primarily because of his belief in the importance of higher education, but also because of the value of the legal system. He noted one of the most important decisions a president can make is who to nominate to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The stature of the event was, to many, proof the university was finally receiving the national attention and recognition it had long deserved.
"It's really a once in a lifetime event," said Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas. "It signifies the law school has really stepped up its prominence."
Costas noted that alumni had come from across the country to attend, proof that the school's reputation has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade.
Visclosky said he practices law with three graduates of the law school, and has a great deal of respect for the education they received and what the university manages to provide to the community.
"I think it reconfirms what people already know locally … the quality of the education they provide," he said.
The anniversary presented a milestone to be celebrated, Bush said, but law schools must look forward to continue the effort, as well as looking back to celebrate accomplishments such as the anniversary.
More than 1,400 people attended the event, which had been in the planning stages for two years. A member of the law school community knew the former president and asked if he would speak, Conison said.
"We believe this event called for a keynote speaker of the highest eminence," Conison said, adding that when Bush accepted, "People were just dazzled, and very, very happy."