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Claire Schenk imparts life (and rock climbing) advice in UMSL commencement speech

May 30, 2019

When you find yourself flipped upside down on the side of a bluff, tangled in your climbing ropes, embarrassed and paralyzed by fear, what’s your next move?

Thompson Coburn partner Claire Schenk posed this question in her May 18 commencement address to more than 200 graduates in the arts, humanities, mathematics and sciences in the University of Missouri St. Louis’s College of Arts and Sciences

Claire, who earned a B.A. in psychology from UMSL, likened the challenges of adulthood to a rock climbing trip she took with some adventurous geology students during her undergraduate studies. 

After successfully ascending a bluff in a Missouri state park, Claire, a self-described “city girl,” soon realized the trip wasn’t over: “I learned that, of course, we were heading back down. As I looked at the ground far below, dropping over the edge was not an exciting proposition for me. To the contrary, I was terrified.” After working up the courage to make her descent, things went from bad to worse: “Rather than sailing smoothly down the bluff, one of my feet became tangled in the rope and I recall being stuck hanging upside down.”

Claire said this moment is a perfect example of how life does not always go as planned and we find ourselves in “moments when you feel stuck, embarrassed, paralyzed by indecision and have no idea what you will do next.” That day on the bluff, Claire managed to stay calm and used advice from her friends to disentangle herself and finish the descent. 

Claire drew on that experience to impart some life lessons to the Class of 2019 and the 4,000 faculty, friends and family members attending the graduation ceremony. “‘Getting a little tangled up’ will without a doubt be part of your life,” she said. “So take a look at whoever is above you and below you – and see if they are managing the ropes. Try to let go, and lean on your friends, family and colleagues as you untangle yourself and reach for your destination or goal.”

Claire concentrates her practice in the areas of health care fraud and abuse, False Claims Act litigation and other complex white-collar civil litigation. She previously spent 14 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney and civil chief with the U.S. Department of Justice. Claire now counsels physician groups, hospitals, pharmaceutical groups and others on government regulatory issues and assists with compliance concerns.

In 2014, Claire was honored as an UMSL “Distinguished Alumna.” She has also been named a “Top 100 St. Louisan to Know” by St. Louis Small Business Monthly.