Done complaining


I’ve spent a lot of time complaining in these pages. In late September, I complained about the disparities between the way our school seems to treat insiders with ethical problems and the way we guard the gates of this place against cheaters to begin with. By October, I was exercised about protests against the military, and then I spent a little time moaning about the overblown portrayal of an alumna on “The Apprentice.” I followed an article about the MPRE’s problems with a brief, but inevitable, spate of denigrating our grading system in February. After that, it’s just been a one man, relatively pointless, crusade against our mandatory pro bono requirement. After all that whining, it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t have some more complaints in this last article of my law school career. After all, only last week I had to attend my financial aid exit interview. And the same day I actually opened a letter from some well-meaning classmates, asking me for a “class gift” before graduation. A class gift? I just finished taking more than a hundred thousand dollars in loans – and since I live pretty cheaply, most of that money went to pay off tuition. I can think of many better times to ask me for a class gift, and most of them are more than ten years from now.

I complain in real life too. The weather is too cold, and spring arrives too late. Books are too expensive. Our academic regalia for graduation shouldn’t cost $75 to rent, and it should definitely not bleed onto the clothes we’re wearing underneath if it rains. This or that professor should change his or her exam format. And I’m not alone in all this whining, or even on the high end of the inevitable distribution. In fact, it just seems like everyone complains about everything around here. Often. And loudly.

But looking back on the past three years, my experience here has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve figured out basically what I want to do with my career, while having a great time outside school. Our professors have been almost uniformly helpful when they’ve needed to be, and learning whatever law I’ve learned – at least in those too-short intervals between exams – has been a pleasure. My classmates have been wonderful, and smart. Too smart. Even the free morning coffee the past two years has been hot and relatively tasty. Compared to most people doing most things, we have it good here – so good that we should be proud of beginning our training as lawyers, or businesspeople, or writers, or whatever, at this school.

So does that mean that I’m going to exhort everyone to behave better as I leave – to set aside their petty complaining and become happy to be here? No, not really. Complaining bitterly about trivialities is one part of the culture of HLS – a significant part of what makes this strange place distinctive. Complaining is the link that’ll bind our memories of studying here to our fellow alumni – 20 years from now, meeting friends who’ve followed completely divergent lives, I fully expect to be able to break the ice with a crack about Gropius (even though I never lived there), or about the Old Hark. I’ve already noticed that this works with our older graduates too, out in the world of work. Whether we’ve adopted this rather grim countenance as a defensive measure against people who assume that HLS graduates are arrogant, or whether there’s really something in the dour Puritan air of Cambridge that makes people a little more sour than elsewhere, incessant whining is our calling card. Complaining, in other words, is what makes a community out of this diverse, divergent school. The classes who stay behind, as we 3Ls leave for the uncertain world of work, and clerking, and debt repayments, should keep it that way. Given what I’ve heard around campus, I have no doubt that they will.

Raffi Melkonian is a 3L.

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