Justice Bernstein visits MSU, encourages students to pursue passions
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, the first blind person elected to the court, encouraged students to find and chase their passions while at MSU during a speech at the Chabad Student Center.
“The ancient Greeks would ask a single question upon the death of one of their citizens. They would ask, 'Is this an individual who lived their life with passion?' As students, this is really up to you,” Bernstein said. “You’re here on this incredible campus. You have the entire world in front of you; you’re exposed to everything – the finest of educators, the finest of cultures, incredible athletics, and sports – you just have everything here that you could ever possibly want. This is the time that you should be passionate. Figure out what you’re passionate about, figure out what you’re excited about.”
Finding your passion is important, Bernstein said, because that will make your life enjoyable even through long days or sleepless nights.
“I need to make sure that in each day something extraordinary happens, that the day doesn’t just get used and not used to the fullest, because the one thing you can never get back is your time,” Bernstein said. “When you reach the end of your days, how do you define your life? Your life is defined by moments in time.”
Bernstein also encouraged students to network with everyone they can.
“This is the time when you get to know people. This is the time when the friends that you make here are going to go on to do great things,” Bernstein said. “What I want you guys to think about as you go forward is that you never know what could come out of a conversation. You just never know where one conversation can lead and what can happen by one meeting or one discussion.”
Serving as the only blind justice on the Michigan Supreme Court isn’t easy, Bernstein said. Every week, the court is faced with 26 cases that they choose whether or not to take up.
Other justices read the lower courts’ proceedings, but the length of some cases makes it impractical to translate those transcripts to Braille. Instead, Bernstein works multiple 12- to 15-hour days every week, memorizing the details of each case.
“I always tell my clerks that I realize how hard this is, I realize how lengthy this is, and I realize that we don’t always get to sleep,” Bernstein said. “But what we have to always come away with is the idea that when we finish conference, we decide to grant leave on a case or not to grant leave on a case, our lives go on. We go on to the next case. We go on to the next issue. We go back home, and we go on with our lives. But for the people that we make decisions over, that’s it for them. That’s their whole life.”
Perhaps because he puts so much time into his work, Bernstein doesn’t pity himself or ask why he was dealt the cards that he was. Instead, he said he focuses on living his life to the fullest and trying to make a difference in the lives of others.
“If I hadn’t been given the experiences that Hashem chose for me – being blind, being injured, living with chronic pain – I wouldn’t be as good a judge; I wouldn’t be as kind, I wouldn’t be as empathetic, I wouldn’t be as understanding, I wouldn’t be as patient and I wouldn’t be as merciful,” Bernstein said. “We’re given our experiences for a reason. You have to use them to do something grand.”
“At a certain point in life, you can’t spend your time, and your energy, and your effort focusing on how you’re going to get over it. You come to realize there simply is no other alternative but just to get on with it,” Bernstein said. “Ultimately, it is those who face struggle and hardship who will do what is hard to achieve what is great. And I ask every one of you to live your life like it’s a great novel, and in any great story, there will always be chapters. There will be chapters of setbacks, frustration and pain. But only through those chapters, you can come to find hope, joy and triumph.”