Although I have another year ahead of me at Harvard Law School, I am already convinced of one life lesson: Dreams only die if you let them.
My career as an editor started at my college newspaper, where I was editor of an entertainment magazine called Recess. I did the job mostly because I loved entertainment, music in particular. We pulled a lot of crazy editorial stunts, garnered our share of fan and hate mail, and managed to put out 28 issues that, in my opinion, were mostly fun to read. It was a lot of work-maybe even more than The RECORD-but it was, without doubt, the most fun job I’ve ever had in my life.
When I wrote my “senior column” at the end of that stint, I began with the phrase, “This is the last time I will get to speak for myself in print for awhile, so bear with me.” After that, I knew I was off to Harvard Law School (with a brief detour at the men’s magazine FHM, but even I don’t count that). My writing career, at least insofar as journalism was concerned, looked like it was over, or at least about to go on hiatus.
Instead, I found myself spending a substantial part of my 1L year writing some of the same kinds of zany stories I’d done before. Last year’s editor and I went to meet 25 members of the opposite sex at a speed-dating service (that I ended up dating the person running it for a few months is another story entirely). I sat down with Shawn McDonald, a then-3L best known for being voted one of People’s 50 Most Eligible Bachelors, as well as Mariah Carey’s cousin.
There were serious moments, too. I was lucky enough to get to work out some of my feelings about the singular, bludgeoning catastrophe of September 11 in the form of opinion columns. I covered a range of amazing speakers and the work of the Prof. Hanson-inspired Justadvocates.com web site for “private public interest” law firms. When I saw, unbelievably, a giant blackface mural on the wall of a Boston bar, I wrote about it. Perhaps most affecting to me personally were the events that hit the week I took over as editor, as the race controversy sparked by Kiwi Camara’s outlines and fueled by a host of other incidents exploded, plunging me into the role of covering one of the Law School’s most public conflagrations in years.
I didn’t really think I was up to that task. I was a former entertainment editor (okay, I also did work for Congressional Quarterly – at least I had some serious news cred). Thrown into the job while all the 3Ls abandoned me to wrap up long-overdue 3L papers, I realized I hadn’t a clue what it really took to be a newspaper editor. Getting the story right – or wrong – would affect people’s most visceral emotions and could significantly impact the image of the Law School. I was sitting at the computer, trying to bang out a 1,200 word article, in a style I was less-than-accustomed to, on a topic of utmost sensitivity, and all the restaurant reviews and wine column and all that other stuff hadn’t even had a read-through.
But thanks in no small part to those who pitched in (especially Donovan Rinker-Morris, who did excellent and thorough reporting for several of the race stories, and Ezra Rosser, who adapted capably to a layout scheme he had never worked with before), a paper did come out, and for the most part, I think, got the story right.
Since then, I’ve learned many new lessons and had many reinforced for me. First, there is no place like HLS. Period. There is no student body more intelligent, diverse and interesting, no faculty more capable, and no atmosphere more rarified (for good and ill), than here. We have our ideological warriors, our slackers, our artists, our scientists, and all of them make an indelible contribution.
Second, and most succinctly, if your mind cannot be changed, then you are incapable of learning. I am consistently amazed and impressed by the intellectual richness here. I am consistently disheartened by the inability to reach consensus, by the tired polarity of the left/right divide. Ideology is only as good as the knowledge that underlies it. Anyone who has spent a single day in a basic public policy class, much less a law school class, should realize that most good decisions are informed by thoughtful analysis and solution-building, not blind value judgments. One need not be neutral toward all ideologies to realize that there are wise and reasonable people across the political spectrum who are often working toward the same goals. The only ideology that counts, in my opinion, is results.
And finally, working up here at The RECORD continues to remind me of an important lesson I learned in college. A publication has no more valuable resource than its people. An editors’ grandest vision doesn’t mean a damn thing without people to support it. I have been inordinately blessed to have a creative, hard-working, fun-to-be-around staff. As an editor, I am humbled by the talents of those around me. Among those graduating this year, Mike Wiser has been a bedrock of this paper from day one. Not only a talented writer and a calm, critical voice, Mike gave The RECORD perhaps its biggest boost in years when he near-single-handedly launched our web site this year. Mike will not only be missed; he is irreplaceable. Erin Bernstein, similarly, was an immeasurable influence around here. She proved that newspaper photos (even my notorious “metaphorical” shots of file cabinets and bulletin boards) can be exciting and artistic, providing the best photography this paper has seen in at least a generation. Ezra Rosser, who came to us only late last year, filled in everywhere he was needed, whether in layout, writing stories or taking countless photographs. And without the talented 1Ls who joined the staff this year, this paper simply could not have happened. Their enthusiasm and fresh ideas have revitalized this publication, and I feel confident their leadership will take it to levels far beyond anything I was able to accomplish.
Foremost among them was Clinton Dick, to whom I now give the editorial reins. Few people I have met have demonstrated so much tenacity, eagerness to learn, humor and dedication all at once. I am honored to be able to serve under his leadership next year. The same is true of Jon Lamberson, next year’s publisher, who offers a rare combination of journalistic skepticism, technical knowhow, and good sense.
Far from stultifying my love of writing, Harvard Law School, as especially The RECORD, has only enhanced and broadened it. I firmly believe there is no better place to pursue your dreams, among law schools or otherwise. As Dean Clark told me this Monday, HLS will change your life forever, and for the better. With one year left to go, I am already confident this is true. And I have The RECORD, and you, our readers, to thank for that.
-Jonas Blank, Editor