I am honored and privileged to stand before you as a United States District Judge. I stand in awe of the men and women who have taken the same oath over the course of our nation’s history. The oath that I have taken to serve as a federal judge is a distinction that is accompanied by incredible responsibility. 

First is the responsibility to uphold the rule of law by properly interpreting and applying the law. Second, it is my responsibility to be a mentor and example for others. And to help others in their pursuit of their own dreams.

Justice John Marshall’s monumental pronouncement in Marbury v. Madison, regarding the role of the judiciary, is still true today. “It is emphatically the duty and province of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

I vow to administer justice objectively and fairly based upon the constitution, laws, and case law precedent. The strength of our constitution lies in the judiciary’s unbiased interpretation and administration of our laws.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Independence Hall in the great city of Philadelphia. As I walked through the halls of the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, I recognized the dreams of the men and women who helped form this independent nation. I was deeply moved by the history behind the creation of our founding documents and the circumstances in which they were created. 

My trip to Philadelphia – the cradle of liberty – caused me to think about my life and my uniquely American journey from Brooklyn to San Antonio.

I have been extremely blessed in my life. Despite my very humble beginnings, I have lived, and I continue to live, the American Dream. My responsibility is to help others fulfill their dreams.

The Declaration of Independence recognizes the inherent nature of our rights and the Constitution protects those rights. Although we hold dearly to our sacred rights as individuals, we are united in our belief that we are all created equal. We are a union of geographically, racially, ethnically, religiously, culturally, and economically diverse people held firmly together by the timeless notion that we are all created equal. 

We know from Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings that every human is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth. Each American and each human being has worth and value. To honor this value in each other, to make the American Dream real and tangible for generations to come, requires those who experience success to reach back and help others.

I believe those who achieve some measure of success have an affirmative duty and moral obligation to make a positive contribution to society. In this sense, the American Dream requires social responsibility. My oath today carries this sense of social responsibility.

I believe the American Dream is broader than just one individual overcoming difficult circumstances through sheer grit and determination. 

My responsibility is to pass along the greatness of America to my fellow Americans – whether they are five years old or 85 years old. And the key is to give to others without asking anything in return. We must serve a cause greater than our own self-interest. 

I am not too proud to tell you that I have eaten food from boxes marked United States Department of Agriculture. I have eaten clumpy government honey and pasty government peanut butter. 

I know firsthand what it’s like to travel to school in a community filled with drugs and violence. I know what it’s like to lose friends to street violence. And I know what it’s like to experience discrimination. 

I know what it’s like to come from a broken home. I also know what it’s like to be the first person in your family to face the daunting challenge of attending college without an example of how to succeed. 

None of these experiences caused me to become bitter or lose faith in the greatness of America or its people. 

I also experienced the tremendous generosity and kindness of others. I learned that hard work and preparation create opportunities that seem like miracles from above. 

I have been fortunate to encounter wonderful people, from all backgrounds and walks of life, who have helped open doors for me. From college professors to military superiors, from law firm partners to elected officials, and religious leaders to business titans, I have encountered people who were willing to help me on my journey. 

I will do my very best to be a positive force for others. We can all be agents for positive change to help form a more perfect union. 

I know we have students in our audience today. I hope I have said something that will spark your courage to dream big, to dare to believe in the power of your dreams. 

Dare to believe that you can be more than your socioeconomic status. Dare to help others believe that they are only limited by the bounds their own imagination. Dare to believe that if this boy from the tough streets of Brooklyn can take this oath today, you can also feel the power of your dream.

The American Dream belongs to us all – so dream big and reach for the stars.

Jason Pulliam

Jason Pulliam is a judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.