Being the pensive, sometimes overly-sensitive, semi-nerd, stereotypical artist-type that I am, at the end of my freshman year in college, I wrote a reflection on the lessons I’d learned that year. I intended to record my personal growth that year, and then they became amazing reminders of my overall personal growth so I continued all the way through graduation.They started out as Facebook notes, (remember those?) and then last year I decided to move the reflection to my blog. Given the whirlwind personal, academic, mental, and emotional year this transition from undergrad to law school has been, I could not let the tradition die. So, complete with quotes from cases that stood out to me (not in the correct citation format, of course, because I won’t be studying the Bluebook until much later this weekend to prepare for the Writing Competition), here are the lessons I’ve learned this year:
1. “Liberty must include the freedom not to conform.” Justice Brennan, Michael H. v. Gerald D. The most important lesson I learned this year was how to maintain myself in the midst of a lot of things that were “not me.” Like any other profession or activity, there is a legal “culture” that I was understandably oblivious to before I came to law school. There are traditions, expectations, priorities, rules, and values that I had to figure out a way (and am still figuring out a way) to make comport with my own.
I had to remember my voice, my perspective, and the importance of others like it, that don’t always get the chance to be heard. Those voices are the reason I came to law school. So, I had to figure out how to keep those voices in the midst of many other different voices. I had to combine my creative writing style with the required legal writing style. I had to keep my passion while displaying my pragmatism.
Even outside of the classroom, I had to figure out how to maintain a balance between doing the things that make me me and doing the things that I was required to get done. I decided that I want “attorney” to be what I do and not necessarily who I am, so I really had to ask myself what I was chasing and why I was chasing it. As much as I thought I had mastered the art of work/life balance–undergrad is work hard, play hard, right?–this year showed me otherwise. I had never had to do anything that required my attention, in some shape or form, seven days a week (especially first semester). It was physically and mentally exhausting at times, and I literally had to learn to remember myself. I had to eat when I was hungry, sleep when I was sleepy, and watch Scandal and Friends reruns when I was finished.
Interestingly, while I hadn’t had the work or life experience of some of my peers, throughout the year I felt like every experience I had ever had prepared me for law school. I might not have been a paralegal, but my creative writing helped me with my legal writing. The time I’d spent on stages singing and/or performing poems made oral arguments and getting called on at random a lot less stressful. Most importantly, the people I had behind me, the memories I had, and the tough lessons I’ve learned about myself and the world before I got to this point all gave me the confidence and the motivation that I needed to keep going. So, ironically, I found that by remembering myself I was able to push myself forward.
2. “The timorous may stay at home.” -Judge Cardozo, Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co. aka “The Flopper” Case. In addition to remembering myself, it was also difficult to put myself out there to meet people and make new friends. I’m someone who has to warm up to people before I can really become friends with them. I’m also not someone who enjoys hanging out in large groups, which can make making new friends difficult. Still, I honestly think that staying true to who I am helped me make the friends that I was meant to make, and I do think that I made quite a few good friends this year. Even better than that, I made friends with people I never really would’ve expected to make friends with before this year. My horizons were definitely broadened. I made friends with people I almost never agree with. I found that the people who share my values and interests weren’t always the people who I expected them to be. I found that the people who appreciated me and looked out for me weren’t always the people I expected them to be, and those revelations were some of the greatest moments I’ve had this year. I also really appreciate those people for respecting our differences and for embracing me for who I am.
3. “Conquest gives title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny, whatever the private and speculative opinions of individuals may be…” Justice Marshall, Johnson v. M’Intosh (FYI this quote/case made the cut because it’s the case that appalled me the most this year.) I take this quote, from possibly the most politically incorrect case I read all year to say: when you succeed, nothing else matters. More importantly, success is however you define it. I have learned this lesson before, and I learned it again this year. There is a lot of noise in the world. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to tune it all out and keep charging forward. No one and nothing can have power over you if you don’t allow it. I have always said that there is no such thing as competition because what God has for me is for me. Competition means you’re looking around when you should be looking forward (or depending on your beliefs, looking UP.) There is only hard work and the blessing of opportunity. Being secure in yourself and in that fact makes everything else irrelevant.
Last but not least, I learned important lessons about gratitude and appreciation this year. I don’t think I ever realized the importance of a support system as much as I do after this year. So, thank you to everyone who has had my back. This applies to old friends and new ones. From my old friends, I appreciate every text message, every phone call, every Skype session, every Facebook message, every hug, and every prayer. Thank you for letting me cry when I needed to cry and for listening to me complain.Thank you for reminding me of who I was when I needed it. Thank you for pushing me forward and always being available when I needed you. To my new friends: figuring out what a friend is and how to make one in law school has been interesting, so I truly appreciate you guys. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me and thank you for allowing me to get to know you. Thank for listening to me preach and for indulging me when I got on my soapbox. Thank you for helping me through the trenches. Congratulations to us.1 down, 2 to go!
I’m looking forward to the rest of the journey…