NO LONGER AT EASE HERE
When I was a junior in high school one of my teachers gave me a copy of One-L and said, “If you’re thinking about going to law school, read this first.” So I did, and contrary to most people’s reaction, I decided on the spot that HLS was the place for me. For some reason, at age seventeen, ideas like the Marines and Turow’s twisted intellectual boot camp seemed pretty cool. College cured all that, but when the time came, I still couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come here.
In one sense, I’ve been a little disappointed. I didn’t find the cutthroat competition, misery or ruthlessness, except maybe in intramural sports. I have yet to find a library book with key pages torn out. The cold-calling Socratic method I saw from Professor Hay and Professor Kagan was so tame that it was almost fun.
But what I did find was that the students, the professors and the law were just as brilliant and fascinating as promised. I have been continually amazed at how much talent there is at this school, from musicians to actors to writers. It’s also been great to be surrounded by so many people who actually care about big-ticket items like justice, rights, politics and culture.
So now we will scatter, most of us never be immersed in quite such a stimulating environment again. My hope is that the intellectual feast will not really end, but only change to a smaller table setting. I think T.S. Eliot (another Harvard student) had this sort of thing in mind in “The Journey of the Magi” when he wrote, “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms/But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.” Although the speaker in the poem regrets his unease, for me it is an exciting unease because it’s the kind of restlessness that leads you to want to make things better. It would be nice to keep one foot in the world of ideas and one foot in the world of action.
We can all be sure that some of our classmates will be famous or powerful or notorious, or all three. That’s why I bought a yearbook each year. I can’t wait to see what y’all will do with your lives. It is unlikely, however, that very many of us will leave a towering legacy at HLS, with a portrait tucked away in some godforsaken corner of Langdell. Just so you know, I have been staring at someone named Warren Abner Seavy (1880-1966), Bussey Professor of Law, for the last three years. I suppose that’s just part of the deal with such a tremendous institution that has a life of its own. But the fact is that we are how the institution will make a mark on communities throughout the country.
All ambulance-chasing jokes aside, lawyers fill the ranks of community leadership everywhere. We’ve acquired a valuable way of thinking and a profession that still has a lot of clout. Some of us may even in a unique way be able to help or defend society’s most vulnerable or downtrodden. History has shown that if someone wants to perpetrate an injustice, they have to get past us first. It has also shown how bad things can be when we lawyers are complicit in injustice.
Most of all, I hope no one from our class will be quoted five years from now in some silly Esquire article talking about how miserable he or she is. That would be ridiculous. We are the privileged of the privileged: Each one of us can do just about anything, anywhere, in or out of the legal world, and get paid enough to live well. How’s that for a great deal? For those of us who have the ticket of a lifetime, there should be no such thing as an acceptable level of misery in professional life.
George Fbbe ’01
WHY REMEMBER OUR ROOTS? WE CAN’T FORGET THEM
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about a recurring question. It comes back to me while I’m taking those frequent breaks from my 3L paper, standing in line at Three Aces on yet another Tuesday night, or watching the 1Ls intensely studying in Langdell. I wonder if a year from now we’ll still be in close touch with the friends and acquaintances who so dominate our daily existence at HLS. We have all faced this question at past graduations from high school and college. It seems particularly significant now, though, with friends leaving for every corner of the country and world, getting married, starting hectic professional lives.
HLS is a special place. It’s one of those places that tends to grow on you when you least expect it, even as you try to resist it. As an institution that has influenced the history of our country, HLS attempts to provide us with a sense of legacy and heritage. We can be proud of much of this institution’s legacy, and wary of some of it, too.
During the past three years, we’ve left our own imprint on this community, our own legacy to this place. We’ve been students here at an important moment in our school’s history, as HLS attempts to adapt to a changing world while maintaining the positive aspects of its rich academic traditions. I think we’ve done some good during our time here through the conversations we’ve had in our classes, the many organizations we’ve constructed outside of class, the service many of us have attempted to provide to the broader community, and the myriad other activities to which HLS students devote themselves.
In talking to friends, it quickly becomes evident that HLS has meant very different things to different people. Some feel more positive about their time here than others. But everyone keeps mentioning the same thing when asked what they will miss most about their experience here – the people. Some mention being grateful for having had the opportunity to pursue their education in the midst of such a talented, diverse and vibrant student body. Others say they couldn’t have survived their time here without the faculty and administrators who supported them. Some remember the friends they got drunk with after (and during) finals, others remember falling in love at the spring semi-formal. Everyone talks about the friends they’ve made here.
And I think that’s where I’ll find the answer to that recurring question keeping me up some nights. So, will we still be in close touch next year? I believe the answer to this question is “yes.” Yes, because our friendships are too strong, our experiences together too significant and the future too promising for us to forget where we came from – and an important part of where we came from is each other.
Jay Munir ’01
GO AHEAD, WORRY – BUT BE HAPPY
Recently I was on a panel to provide some recommendations to 1Ls about what courses to take (or not take). Another member of that panel, a friend and fellow 3L whom I admire very much, said the smartest thing that evening. She said to remember to take the courses that make you happy. She said we’ve all jumped through enough hoops, and we don’t need to jump through any more. So if there are any words that I wish to impart to the class of 2001 (or really anyone, for that matter), I couldn’t say it any better than my friend. Be happy.
Sounds easy enough. But I really don’t think it is easy to be happy. For one thing, I think it’s hard to figure out for yourself what makes you happy. It seems really easy to fall into the trap of doing things because other people are doing them and you want to fit in. I know that I signed up for subciting as a 1L before I really knew what that meant. It looked like something all the other 1Ls were doing, so I should be doing it too. As a 2L, I registered for Federal Courts without really having a clue as to why, other than everyone saying it was necessary to take this course if you were clerking. I ended up loving that class so I’m glad I took it. But I didn’t take that class because I thought it would make me happy. I’m just lucky it ended up that way.
I think that many of us often do things to make others happy. Pleasing a parent, friend, or significant other can be a powerful motivator. It can certainly spur one to achievement and success. But focusing too much on the approval of others leaves little room to consider what perso
nal happiness means.
We should also remember that we’re entering a stressful profession. Lawyers have relatively high rates of divorce, alcoholism and depression. Many of us are leaving semesters that have been more stressful than we had previously thought they would be (read: third-year paper). I learned from my dentist this year that I grind my teeth. No dentist I had prior to law school ever told me this. I’m definitely chalking it up to third-year paper stress.
Yet despite all this – despite the prospect of potentially stressful work lives and the difficulty of even identifying what happiness means, I have hope that each of us can and will be happy. I believe that we have a good shot at it because we are each capable of choosing to be happy and working to make that happen.
I do think it is work to be happy. And the hardest thing in the world, after finding your happiness, is holding onto it. But I can safely say that none of us is unacquainted with hard work. So if anybody is capable of working toward and for their own happiness, we are.
If you take away from this short essay the idea that I’m basically pilfering the message from that Bobby McFerrin song, you’d be wrong, or at least half-wrong. I hope you are happy. But I don’t think it will come without worry or hardship. Happiness, finding it and keeping it, is tough and takes fortitude. But I hope that each of us will be strong enough to make our own happiness.
Ayn Ducao ’01