An Alum's Perspective
Rudyard Kipling wrote: "If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew/To serve your turn long after they are gone,/And so hold on when there is nothing in you/Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on'..." If you can do this, then you will be a man in the eyes of the world.
Practically every high school English class studies this poem, noting it as an example of fortitude and inspiration in the face of adversity. And yet you really have no idea what the hell it means until you have experienced challenges yourself.
So. Welcome to the challenge. Scared yet?
In the midst of all the speeches, free food, and avalanche of tips, information, and advice, I bet your head is starting to hurt. You've gotten your casebooks from the Bookstore and every Orientation program you attend has some handout or packet that will end up at the bottom of some desk drawer only to be discovered when you move out in three years. You've gotten your first assignments and you may have even skimmed the cases, thinking that it's got to be some kind of joke that the professor wants you to read THIS MUCH in two days. And you're probably also secretly excited, filled with the confidence of someone who has rocked the LSAT, scaled Mount Rainier, discovered the cure for cancer, or whatever it is you "amazing" new students did before you set foot in Foggy Bottom. You trace your fingers over the gold lettering of your civil procedure casebook and practice saying, "Hello, I'm a law student" while pacing the halls or riding the Metro. You know you're going to love it here.
And you will love it here, really you will. And you will hate it here. Really, you will.
Ok, maybe not hate - that's a strong word. But we guarantee you that there will be times when you will want to quit. When you finish reading a thirty page case and discover you have no idea what the holding is. When you've memorized a statute backwards and forwards, only to become tongue-tied when the professor calls on you. When your friends and family start saying, "We never see you anymore, you can't be studying ALL the time..." When your classmate starts listing the Rules of Civil Procedure alphabetically and you can't even spell "subpoena." When you realize that, yup, you are definitely wearing yesterday's shirt. And you don't even care.
But when the casebook ends, when exams are done, when the hard lounge goes dark for the winter holiday break, you'll realize that was, in its own weird and twisted way, really a lot of fun. Because you are meant to be here. Like Dean Lawrence says, you are the best and the brightest, and you came here for a reason - to advance your intelligence, to achieve greater success, to discover something new about yourself. Hold on to that reason. And savor this time of the newness - the discovery - and the now. Embrace the unknown and realize that you don't have all the answers - but neither does the next guy. No one understands what you are going through, not even other law students. And that's why you're here. To learn the law YOUR way. And to learn how to think and conduct yourself in the professional manner that will mark the rest of your days.
So, in other words - keep your humanity. Guard it very, very carefully because there are so many times you might lose it. Because law school is tough - not just the amount of work you are expected to produce, but the amount of things that you learn a lot about yourself over the next three years. You will change. And that's ok. Just remember - you are still the brilliant, weird, amazing person that you were when you first set foot in Lerner Hall on that ridiculously muggy day so many days ago.
Because - if you can trust yourself when all others are telling you differently. If you can keep your head when your professor drills you. If you can walk with Lawrence, Kerr, Butler, and all other greats - but not lose your everyday stride. If you can recognize exactly what you do know, and realize that it is meaningless compared to what you don't. If you can have the courage to raise your hand to add to genuine intellectual discourse, and have the wit to bite your tongue when it won't. If you can hold your convictions close on the road to knowledge, yet bid others a gracious farewell when your paths must divide for opinion's sake. Or if you can open your mind to embrace a whole new vision of the world, yet keep your feet firmly planted. If you can clash and parry with peers on endless hours - yet go home and not raise a contrary word to your loved ones. If you can learn to think like a lawyer, yet keep your sense of self when the day is done.
Then you'll truly be the best student you can ever hope to be.