I should be graduating this June. That thought keeps popping into my head as I wander among campus these last few weeks of the semester, watching my former classmates as they struggle to finish 3L papers, start planning for their bar review courses, discuss their post-bar plans. As they get ready to say goodbye to Harvard Law School.

I should be graduating this June. But I’m not.

I have one more year here, due to the fact that I took a leave of absence in the middle of my first 1L year in 2002. I suppose I am not ready to graduate yet, but I have to admit it saddened me to have to return my invitation to the Dean’s graduation dinner for my former section. Not this year.

The thought of one more year here is daunting to say the least. I have not had an easy time at HLS, and it has been especially difficult this past month. I entered this school full of hope; fresh out of college, I was excited to begin the next stage of my life at one of the top institutions in the country. But I had a rough first few months. I found this school, for the most part, to be alienating and cold and full of people eager to bring others down. I have often commented on the lack of kindness in this community, and I still think that’s true. Before I came here, I had never had a problem finding my niche anywhere I went.

But my time here has been overwhelmed by a feeling that I do not fit in.

But events of the past month or so have forced me to take a good look at myself and ask some tough questions. I have always thought of myself as a decent person with strong opinions whose actions reflect her idealistic beliefs (still firmly committed to public interest law at the end of my second year, after all!) and as someone who has a genuinely friendly personality. I always thought the reason I had not found my place here was that it was too unfriendly, too hostile, too insecure. The problem was “them,” not me.

What I hadn’t thought about, until recently, was my own role in all of this. Was I, someone who would consider herself non-judgmental, really judging my fellow classmates all the time? I have always thought I give people a fair chance, but do I really? I talk all the time about the need to get to know others before making judgments, about giving people the benefit of the doubt, about not taking one’s own insecurities out on others. About treating people kindly. About seeing the humanity in everyone.

But can I really say I am living out that ideal? I believe I am a generally good person, but clearly I still have a while to go before I can truly say that my actions live up to my ideals. I cannot keep blaming others for my unhappiness here.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one on this campus who needs to examine my conscience and ask myself why I do the things I do. I know that most people who read this will find ways to justify their own unkind or immature actions to themselves, just as I have often done in the past, so I don’t really think my own revelations will do much to change the culture here. But that’s okay, I suppose; I can only really concentrate on improving myself and hope others will take a good look at themselves as well.

I am extremely nervous about laying out my insecurities in print; I don’t quite know if HLS is ready for the candidness and vulnerability contained in this column. But ultimately, I don’t think it matters what people see when they look at me. The only thing that matters is what I see when I look at myself.

Angela Yingling is a 2L and co-founder of the Vie Society.

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