Video From Cleary Fundraiser

Below is a link to a video recording of the presentations from my first fundraiser hosted by Cleary Gottlieb.  For details about the evening, you should read Going Public.  For those who don’t have the patience to watch the video, I’ve also pasted below my speech. 

A few notes about the video:  Ethan Klingsberg, a Cleary partner says some nice things about me at the beginning.  My speech begins at the 3:00 mark.  My speech is long and contains a lot of Cleary stories that not everyone will get.  It goes for about 18 minutes.  Please note that there was a fire alarm announcement in the middle of the speech which is why I pause — I did not forget what I was going to say.  After my speech, Michael Sapienza speaks for about 12 minutes to provide some basic information about the fund and Chris4Life.  Then, at the 34:00 mark, Dr. John Marshall, a prominent GI oncologist, takes the stage and makes some very compelling remarks.  The feedback I’ve received about Dr. Marshall’s speech has been uniformly glowing, so I think his remarks are well worth your time.  And then at the 40:00 mark, I go up to ask for the money.  You can watch that to see how I made my fundraising plea.  I hate seeing myself on video, absolutely hate it!  But here goes…

Video of Presentations at Cleary Fundraiser

And here’s the speech (including the ask for money).


On behalf of my husband, daughters, parents and sister who are all here tonight as well as myself, I thank Ethan for bringing the idea of this event to the executive committee and the executive committee for agreeing to hold such an unprecedented gathering of the Cleary community. And, in what are completely inadequate words, I thank all of you for being here tonight in a show of support that deeply humbles me.

Some of you know what happened in all the gory details. Some of you know only that I have colon cancer. So, I will be brief about the facts. In June 2013, I developed sporadic abdominal pain, gas and bloating that worsened as the weeks passed. In the third week of this pain, I was working on an alert memo with Neil and Vic; I was in so much pain I told them I had to finish the memo from home so I could squeezed in a second visit to my internist and then a GI. Ultrasounds and blood tests showed nothing alarming so I went on my planned vacation to Los Angeles for a family wedding over 4th of July weekend. I never made the wedding because that morning I checked into the ER.

Long story short – without any known genetic predisposition, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and ended up at UCLA 36 agonizing hours later where I had surgery to remove the tumor that was completely obstructing my colon; my colon had grown to the size of a football and was in fact already beginning to rupture from all the digested food that was trapped inside (that would have been disastrous). Surgery revealed that I had a single metastasis to the peritoneum, the plastic-bag like sac that encloses the abdominal cavity and an alarming number of cancerous lymph nodes. My cancer was staged as Stage IV. That means that if you believe in the statistics – which I’m sure many of you would since most of you are rational lawyers or spend all your working hours around rational lawyers – and if you were to bet on whether I’ll be around four years from now, you’d have a 90 – 92% chance of winning if you were to bet on me being dead.

I’ve been on chemo for over a year and had another surgery in March during which, in addition to a three pesky spots being removed from my peritoneum, my abdominal cavity was bathed for two hours in a chemotherapeutic drug heated to 106 degrees. My scans have been clean, but scans are notoriously bad at detecting peritoneal disease (as opposed to disease in the typical organs that you’re all familiar with). I finish this cycle of chemo in October and I honestly have no idea what’s next.

When I walked into that Cambridge hotel room in 2000 during the fourth week of on-campus interviews and was absolutely dazzled by Mary’s compelling energy and passion for Cleary Gottlieb, I would have never imagined that I would be standing here 14 years later, (1) afflicted by Stage IV colon cancer but also (2) that I would be the beneficiary of so much goodness that Cleary has brought into my life. Would you believe me if I told you that Cleary has given me my most vital tools in fighting my cancer? It’s true. Cleary gave me Josh, who can process complicated medical studies with almost the same ease with which he processes complicated provisions of the Internal Revenue Code – thank you Jason for staffing him on my M&A deal and thank you Max and Wes from Evening Services for batching us together that one fateful night and thank you Jim for popping the champagne at the party thrown here right before we left for our wedding. I always found tax fascinating but knew I wasn’t smart enough to be a tax lawyer. So I did the next best thing – I married a Cleary-trained tax lawyer. Josh is my greatest ally in this war.

From Josh and my union came our beloved daughters, Mia and Isabelle. The thought of them growing up without me there to kiss away their heartaches and of being deprived of the joy of watching them lose their first teeth or graduate from high school spurs me on during my darkest moments.

But perhaps Cleary’s greatest gift to me is an appreciation for exceptionalism. Cleary is an institution that values exceptionalism, this was the first institution in my life where I consciously strove to be exceptional, and exceptional is what I must be to beat this cancer.

Before Cleary, I had always felt like I was muddling through life. I’d gone to a horrible public high school and by some combination of luck and miracle got into Williams College, and then despite my mediocre grades there, I got into Harvard Law School and then again, despite my mediocre grades, Cleary chose me. I never felt like I belonged at these fine institutions – a poor, immigrant girl who wasn’t that smart but was willing to work hard, rubbing elbows with America’s elite.
I came up with the term Cleary exceptionalism from the political theory of American exceptionalism, the notion that America and its people are qualitatively unique, thereby explaining their unparalleled success in the world. Within the law firm microcosm, I’ve always had the impression that Cleary is a pretty special place, attracting the smartest and most talented people with the most diverse backgrounds, people who can speak three or four languages, people who have traveled around the world twice, people who have done amazing things and go on to do even more amazing things. The people here are exceptional and I was honored to be asked to join this community.

But Cleary also demands exceptionalism of its people.

During my second month at Cleary, I walked into Jeff’s office to go over a draft of a no-action letter I had prepared. Jeff was a senior associate back then on the brink of being elected to partnership. Truthfully, what I had given him was garbage; I thought I had tried hard but I really hadn’t. Filled with typos and incoherent sentences, I’m embarrassed to think that I could have ever submitted such dreadful work. Jeff sat me down and said, “Julie, I’m going to tell you something now and it’s better if you hear it from me rather than someone else. Whatever you do, you must always do your best. I understand you may not understand the substance at this point, but at a minimum it must look good because sometimes your seniors might not be able to review it and it will go out to the client as is, or you might not have a nice guy like me reviewing your work.” Jeff gave me my first lesson on professional exceptionalism.

From that day forward, I always sought to perform at my highest level and to do my best even though I may have been sleep deprived or overworked. And because of that, I grew to think more critically, to write more precisely, to negotiate more boldly. And trust me when I tell you that all of those skills that come with Cleary exceptionalism have helped me to process a vast amount of medical information and to make some difficult and time-sensitive decisions quickly. One of my blog posts in which I summarized in bullets a meeting with a surgeon and the pros and cons of undergoing my second surgery is reminiscent of an issues list I might have written for a client.

I remember waking in the middle of the night after my first surgery to find Josh crying in the dark, the glow of his iPad casting a pale light on his face. He was reading studies about the odds of survival for Stage IV colon cancer.
“What’s wrong?” I asked impatiently.

“I didn’t want you to hear this now but you might as well know. The five year survival rates for Stage IV colon cancer are 8 to 10%!” Josh declared.

I already knew; I’d overheard the conversations around me as I was waking from surgery, when everyone thought I was still asleep and my surgeon was convinced I wouldn’t remember anything anyhow as the anesthesia worked its way out of my body.

“They’re just numbers, Josh,” I said.

“Did you hear what I said? 8 to 10%!” He was practically yelling at me, impatient at my seeming inability to understand the seriousness of the situation.

I waited for him to calm down and then I demanded of him with my own intensity, “Josh, you tell me what the odds are of a blind girl escaping post-war Communist Vietnam, surviving a month-long journey by fishing boat, eventually making it to this country, regaining some sight, overcoming poverty and the stigma and low expectations that come from a physical disability born of her family’s immigrant ignorance, graduating from Harvard Law School, landing a job at one of the most prestigious international law firms in the world and marrying a good ol’ boy from the South? Tell me what are the odds of all of that happening?”

Josh had to admit that the odds are next to nil.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I truly realized that indeed I had practice in being exceptional, just not in the sense that I was used to thinking of exceptionalism. Succeeding despite my visual disability had always been about just being really angry, so angry that all I wanted to do was prove to all the people who ever said I couldn’t do anything that indeed I could do everything.

To be an outlier to the statistical odds, I knew from the get-go that I had to bring exceptionalism to my fight against cancer. However, my strategy in fighting this most recent challenge in my life had to be different than what I had employed with battling blindness. That had been a solitary endeavor, cloaked in shame, something I had to do alone to prove that I could. Obviously, it was an easier battle because my life wasn’t at stake, because in many respects, I could shape my destiny just by the sheer force of my will and determination. I cannot fight cancer alone. I cannot shape my destiny with cancer, I cannot be an exception to the statistics just by the sheer force of my will. I wish I could, but I can’t. I knew I needed help.

Because I knew I needed help and because I need to be exceptional, I started a blog shortly after I was diagnosed that was unlike any cancer blog I had seen. I wanted to write about my cancer fighting journey but in a brutally honest manner that centered on universal human truths that would appeal to everyone, whether he or she had cancer. More than anything else though, I needed the support of knowing that people out there were reading and that people cared

Because I knew I needed help and because I needed to be exceptional, I started the Julie Yip-Williams & Joshua R. Williams Research Fund. Most people who have cancer don’t seek to raise significant amounts of money for research, but I had to be different and creative in fighting my war. Through this fund, perhaps I will meet doctors and learn things that will have a direct bearing on whether I live or die from this disease. Through this fund, maybe if I can stave off this disease long enough, a cure can be found in time for me. Through this fund, I hope to really heal emotionally; I know it will give meaning and purpose for why I of all people had to have colon cancer at age 37 and thereby provide some peace and comfort in fighting the anger and bitterness that comes with having cancer, for that too is part of this war.

And now, I’m asking for your help to be an outlier, an exception.

Because Cleary has given me so much and because I think I have some credibility after having danced with the Angel of Death a few times in my life, I wanted to leave you with one final message that has nothing to do with cancer that I hope you, especially the young associates here, will remember. When I was a young associate myself, I was working on the Neiman Marcus LBO. The senior associate was on vacation for what felt like weeks and weeks, so I was left to work directly with the partner, Bob. Bob was intimidating. I was always terrified that I would screw something up, so I was perpetually nervous around him. One day, I walked into his office and he looked rather glum, so I asked, “What’s wrong?” He told me his youngest had just left for college and it was “so damned quiet” in the house. Those were his exact words – “so damned quiet”. I had this image of super smart, intense and consummate lawyer Bob walking around his house, forlorn, looking in on all the empty bedrooms. I was less afraid of Bob after that.

When I was a much more senior associate, I was working on a crazy, incomprehensible, transaction with American Express. This time, the partner was Les. I was scared of Les too for similar reasons. We were working late one night with the client in a conference room at Latham & Watkins. When things were wrapping up, the client suggested to Les that he should just stay in a hotel for the night, rather than making the long drive home, since we had a super-early morning meeting the next day. Les said no, that he made a point to slept next to his wife every night.

While we should strive to be exceptional professionals (even if that means working late hours under the intense pressures that come with being a lawyer here, whether we’re agonizing over cross-reference checks or pouring over the definition of “EBITDA”), we should all strive even harder to be exceptional human beings, to see the humanity in all of us, to recognize that at the end of the day, even the fiercest-seeming of us love our children and our wives, and when everything is said and done, our humanity and love for one another are the only qualities about ourselves that will truly endure and resonate through time, long after we are gone.

I never thought I would ask people for money. I thought fundraising sounded like the worst job in the entire world. But cancer has changed me. After dancing with death on a daily basis and enduring unimaginable physical pain, I’m not afraid anymore; I’m not afraid of a lot of things anymore. At stake is my life, my children’s lives and the lives of millions of others who have and will have colorectal cancer, maybe even your life and the lives of your children.

Last week, Mia who isn’t quite five yet, asked me as I was lying in bed with her, “Mommy, am I going to have cancer when I grow up?” Sadly, cancer is part of my children’s reality at too young an age. I told her that she might, but that by the time she’s grown up, the doctors will have figured out how to get rid of cancer. I don’t want to be a liar, so help me not be a liar to my children

So as is my nature, I’m going to be very blunt now in asking you for money. I know that there are many worthwhile causes out there, but I think no cause is more worthy than those having to do with the perpetuation of our own species. Cancer is becoming increasingly common and with colorectal cancer, the rates of incidences among the population under 40 is increasing by 2-3% a year. There is something in the air that we breathe, the food we eat and the radiation-emitting devices we hold that spurs cancer. We will never return to a pre-industrialized age so the only solution is to find a cure.

Josh and I have made a pledge of $50,000 over 5 years. While we will gladly accept one-time donations, we will also gladly accept commitments over 2 to 5 years.

Obviously, I would be beyond thrilled if anyone could match or exceed what Josh and I have committed. If that’s something you’re interested in and you need more information for that level of commitment, Michael and I would be happy to follow up with you this evening or after this evening.

With the understanding that everyone has many financial obligations and should absolutely give only what he or she is comfortable giving, this chart shows some targets I thought were reasonable. Bear in mind that these numbers include any multiple year commitments.
[Show chart]

We will be accepting checks as well as contributions made via credit card tonight. One-time donations up to $5,000 can also be made online at If you’re interested in making a multiyear pledge or otherwise would like to discuss further, you can fill out these pledge cards and we will follow-up with you.

Whatever you can give, thank you from the bottom of my heart. And even if you can’t give, I still thank you from the bottom of my heart for your prayers, thoughts, good vibes, positive vibes. I’m going to need them for a long time, or at least I hope for a long time.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debbie whitmore
    Sep 23, 2014 @ 20:50:15

    You did a great job!!!


  2. Andie
    Sep 23, 2014 @ 23:24:37

    Wonderful presentations. Thank you for doing what you are to save us, our children and our fellow survivors.


  3. Domitilla
    Sep 25, 2014 @ 10:33:18

    You ARE exceptional. You are indeed. Love


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