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Bruised by tragedy, law professor offers hope

In 2006, Colin Colverson was building houses in one of the country’s hottest real estate markets when he could feel the bubble bursting.

He escaped to USC’s law school just in time to avoid massive layoffs, relieved that he could lay low until things got better and he could get a job as an attorney.

Three years later, things are not better. The housing cancer has spread, pulling hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians into unemployment. In three weeks, Colverson won’t be able to hide in school anymore.

“I’m feeling a lot worse now that I am $90,000 in debt,” he said.

That is the backdrop for Robert Bockman, an adjunct USC law school professor, who Thursday had to stand in front of Colverson and hundreds of Colverson’s classmates to speak about the spirit of the law at a time when many have no spirit at all.

But there was a reason hundreds of students came to the law school auditorium during finals preparation to hear a professor talk.

They came for Kate.

Kate was Bockman’s daughter, a 2007 law school graduate who died in a car wreck in October while traveling to visit her fiancee.

Bockman spoke for nearly half an hour about how students come to law school because they believe in something — and how they often lose that spirit by graduation.

Shortly after Kate’s death, Bockman told the students, he went on one of his Sunday morning runs and stopped by the law school.

He walked the empty halls, sat in the classrooms and stood in the auditorium.

“I felt the spirit that I talked about here, embodied in a student who came with the kind of spirit of the law that you have ... and who left with the kind of spirit that you can have and that I would devoutly wish that you have,” Bockman told the students.

“It is possible to have that spirit. It is a mutual collaboration of the efforts of all of us here to see that you have it, and that you carry it with you in your profession.”

Colverson rose to his feet with the rest of his classmates and clapped, the applause covering the sound of students softly weeping.

“No one else in this school, literally no one can inspire you as much as he does to live with integrity,” Colverson said.

Then it was time for the students to give back to Bockman. They had secretly nominated him for the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest honor for civilians, and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal was there to present it to him.

Bockman was the only person in the room who did not know the award was coming.

The award honored Bockman for his years as a state and federal appeals lawyer for the McNair Law Firm, as well as his volunteer work with Richland School District 1.

“But it’s not all those achievements that define Bob Bockman. It’s something that’s not planned in life, to be your child’s legacy. But Bob is Katie’s legacy,” said Toal, who had been Kate Bockman’s boss and was one of only three people who called her Katie.

Bockman smiled and thanked his students with his eyes. He flashed an “I love you” sign to his family sitting in the auditorium’s front row.

But as he shook hands and said countless thank yous, his thoughts drifted once more to his students.

“While it is not as bright or as secure or as promising as it was three years ago, it will happen for them,” he said afterward. “They are grounded in the law, grounded in the spirit of what the law is, and those values and those virtues that they take will ultimately lead them to where they are supposed to be in their careers.

“I want them to feel that way. I think it is the mutual responsibility of the student and the leader of the academy, as I call it, for them to feel that way as they are about to leave — that they do have that confidence.

“That they do have that spirit.”

Reach Beam at (803) 771-8405.

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