Making History - New York State Supreme Court Justice Janet Malone '86
"Have faith in the education you have received at Utica University; remember wherever you go the reputation of Utica University will go with you, and it is a great reputation."
In every respect, Justice Malone represents the values that define Utica University and its distinguished alumni. She is a true Pioneer.
Born in Barbados, West Indies amidst very humble beginnings, she immigrating to the United States in 1971. She attended Utica University where she received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1986, then went on to earn her Juris Doctorate from City University of New York in 1989. She began her legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan under the Honorable Robert Morgenthau, prosecuting major felonies and arguing before the Appellate Division of the First Judicial Department.
In 1997 she transitioned to practicing law in the private sector, representing clients in criminal, matrimonial, family, and general civil litigation.
Janet Malone entered the New York State Court System in 2003 as a Support Magistrate to Westchester County Family Court. Four years later, she was elected Judge on the same court, only the second African-American woman to attain that office. During her tenure as family court judge, she was designated to serve the post-judgment matrimonial part of the Supreme Court, presiding over all issues filed in Westchester County between divorced parties.
On November 8, 2016, Judge Malone made history as the first African-American woman elected Justice of the New York State Supreme Court in the five Counties of the Ninth Judicial District. She has earned a reputation as a fair, compassionate, and respectful judge who gives everyone a voice in her courtroom. She lectures to judges, attorneys, and community organizations on a regular basis, and she and her husband George help mentor young people in their community through a variety of volunteer activities.
She brought her lifetime of experience and words of inspiration to the Class of 2022 as keynote speaker at the undergraduate commencement ceremony.
"When I was asked in 2019 to deliver the commencement speech in 2020, I thought to myself, did they get the right Janet? Did the University mean to contact entertainer, Janet Jackson, maybe former secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, or even secretary of the treasury Janet Yellen to talk about the economy. I can’t promise that my speech will be as entertaining as a speech about interest rates.
"Then I asked myself: 'why not me?' After all, I have something the other Janet’s don’t have, a Utica University degree. I was excited for the opportunity to share the knowledge and wisdom I have gained in arriving at this place on my life’s journey.
"But then the coronavirus changed the world and my speeches. In 2022, I was at a loss for words. I could not find the right words to string together that would motivate you, encourage you, and excite you for the future before you.
"Nothing I wrote seemed right. I struggled; I questioned what I would, could or should say to you, students whose college experience was interrupted by this heinous virus, students who may have been deprived of saying a suitable goodbye to loved ones; leaving you to honor them from afar with your tears. What would I say to those of you who have struggled with virtual learning and isolation or have neglected your mental health during the pandemic?
"What do I say to you?
"I am so proud of you! Look what you have accomplished during one of the most uncertain and stressful times in history.
"Your presence here today is a testament to your resilience; how you took what was thrusted upon you and found the strength to persevere even when you wanted to give up. But with grit and determination, you got through one day, then another day, and another day, and another day, and another day, and here you are about to receive your bachelor’s degree from Utica University.
"Life is not always rainbows and butterflies; life is complicated, fluid and often unfair. You will not go through life without experiencing the ups and downs of joy and sadness, success and failure, love and loss, strength and weakness, courage, and fear. It is these periods on your life’s journey that you will learn lessons that will transform your thoughts, action, and life and prepare you for your next challenge when, not if, it comes.
"My biography in the commencement booklet has been eloquently edited to read that I was born in 'Barbados, West Indies amidst very humble beginnings in a home with no modern conveniences.' Let me translate because I don’t want you to think that the modern conveniences, I lacked had anything to do with not having a microwave, a television, or a telephone. I was born and lived in a wooden house that stood on cinder blocks until I was seven years old; the house did not have indoor plumbing or electricity – that’s why my journey to this point is titled “From the Outhouse to the Courthouse”.
"In between the outhouse and the courthouse, I watched my mother, a live-in domestic here in the United States, care for a family’s four children while their mother stayed in bed drinking orange juice and vodka. I watched my mother clean up after the drunk mother and her drunk father and experienced the fear of homelessness when my mother was fired from her live-in job in the middle of the night because the youngest child in the household called my mother “mom”.
"I also experienced not having food in the kitchen cabinets. Today, we call the unavailability of or inability to access food 'food insecurity,' I still call it hunger. As I grew older, I experienced the physical absence of my mother because she worked three jobs to support my sister and me. I experienced the effects of the color complex within my race, immigrant bias, and the deflation of being told by a teacher that I did not have what it took be a lawyer. Look at me now!
"It was here at Utica University that I made personal and academic mistakes. It was here that I learned that the traditional teaching model did not suit me, so I found the retention method that worked for me. It was at Utica University that I confronted my childhood trauma and fear that I could not be lawyer.
"It was Professor Ted Orlin who challenged me to face that fear. It was Orlin, a gruff, no-nonsense Professor, who intimidated me, that introduced me to my law school, which gave me the skills that set me on a journey to become the first African-Caribbean American to be elected a New York State Supreme Court Justice in my district.
"What did I learn from this journey? I learned that fear is nothing more than False Expectations Appearing Real. If Ted Orlin had not asked me what my plans were after graduation, I might have realized the seed of doubt planted about my ability to become a lawyer. I learned here how to build myself up from the inside, by affirming and developing my strengths and managing my false expectations with statements to myself like 'Why not me? Who said I can't? Haven't we been here before? You got this!!!
"I also learned that my education was my ticket out of a low-income existence and if anyone tried to stand in my way, Philippians 4:13 reminded me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me if I was faithful.
"Class of 2022, each of you has a story and it must be told. You cannot keep your life’s journey to yourself because you don’t know if what you have lived through will uplift or encourage someone who needs to know that they are not alone, that it is not where you end up in life but the road that leads you there, and the life lessons you pick up along the way.
"On this 12th day of May 2022, I challenge you to use your journey to inspire the next generation here at Utica University and in your community. David Rockefeller once said that if necessity is the mother of invention, discontent is the father of progress.
"We know what is great about Utica University but what can it do to be better? Does it need more student services, including mental health services? A more diverse student faculty or an increase in campus safety?
"In your community, will you use your unique gifts, talents, and skills to address the disparities in medical care, housing, education, and employment due to racism and implicit bias?
"Find your passion! Engage in work that is meaningful to you. Find what motivates you. What do you love doing that does not feel like work? If you can’t find a job that will give you that passion, are you willing to create that job?
"I challenge you be agents of change, to have the conviction that change needs to happen in our society and that you can contribute to that change. Let your heart, your emotion and your passion motivate you to travel into territory that your feet and your mind may resist.
"Take time to know yourself.
"Set goals, determine whose number you need to block, you don’t need toxic relationships to drag you down. Do you need to make amends with someone? What do you need to do to prepare yourself for your next chapter whether it is a new career, relocation to another state, or starting a family? Have you learned how to handle trials, tribulations, and failures? Ask yourself, have I learned that what some people think about me is none of my business?
"I challenge you to be your authentic self. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable and challenge you to be your best self. Forgive yourself, pamper yourself and seek help when you need it. Take care of your physical and mental health.
"You and I are a part of the history of Utica University’s in-person and hybrid education and what can be accomplished when a school like Utica University invests in you and your success. Education is power, your personal power, and it cannot be taken from you. Have faith in the education you have received at Utica University; remember wherever you go the reputation of Utica University will go with you, and it is a great reputation.
"Today you have honored your family and yourself with your achievement.
"As you continue your life’s journey, remember to dream big, dream with our eyes wide open, dream in color, and don’t look back; be present in the day you are blessed to have because it is a day you have never seen before and a day that you will never see again.
"I leave you with this Irish Prayer – after all my last name is Malone –
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
"I am so proud of you, Class of 2022! God bless you and your journey!"
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