Imagining Success

BY ARSALAN SULEMAN

Last year we were told that the game was over — we had all won, we all made it to HLS. This year we were reassured of our high demand, reassured that we are in one of the hottest legal markets ever. And next year — well, next year we’ll be relaxing, waiting for work to start, waiting to get on with our lives and make money. The ease with which we can blind ourselves to the pressing demands of the world is astounding. Yet so subtle is the process that we barely notice ourselves blunting our own ambitions and convincing ourselves that our plans to “make a difference” were just passe fantasies. I hope that recent events have shattered those blinders for many because the stark reality is that this country, let alone this world, is far from being in good shape. America’s racial and class divide was on clear display in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. While the relatively well-off were able to safely evacuate, poorer residents suffered from the debacle that was supposed to be a rescue effort. Anarchy set in as the National Guard was scattered and late to arrive and an emaciated FEMA was unable to establish a stable presence on the ground. Thousands of lives, livelihoods, and life-long investments were destroyed in a few days. As people died waiting for food and water at designated evacuation shelters, the nation looked on with horror and disbelief. Yes, this is indeed happening on American soil.

It was difficult to watch New Orleans, the city that I love, the city that I grew up in, disintegrate. But in seeing that terror manifest itself, I was reminded of the fragility of our society and the delicate nature of life itself. Despite our advances, despite our wealth, our lives are just as vulnerable as the lives of any other citizens of this world. Surely, this global civilization has come very far, but we are still living in an age of war and occupation, of oppression and genocide, of disease and hunger, and of calamity and hypocrisy. America plays a role in every pressing issue globally, but that role is not often a positive one. Just because we find ourselves at the top of the crab barrel does not mean that we should continue to base our success on the misery of others. And ‘others’ refers not only to people living in foreign countries but also to many of our fellow Americans. Though some may forget or deliberately chose to ignore the facts, this country still has deeply entrenched race and class divisions. Our time here at HLS may shield us from these conditions, but we will not be able to avoid them for long.

No matter what job we chose to enter into following graduation, we will all face the choice of being part of the problem or being part of the solution. By this I do not mean that any particular job is intrinsically better or more honorable than another. Taking a public interest job does not mean that you are automatically better or a more socially conscious person than someone taking a law firm job. It is, rather, what we do at our jobs and with our resources that makes a difference. However, in thinking about our career paths, we should not forget the visions of change that motivated us to get here in the first place. Nor should we forget the overwhelming challenges facing our country and our world. A HLS degree is not just a license to make bank; it is a means to achieving ends that can bring our global community to a higher level of civilization. Having benefited as much as we have, we bear an obligation to give back as well. Personal achievement is important, but if we think about the impact we are making in society, if we focus on improving our societal conditions in addition to our own individual conditions, then we will all be far more successful in this short life than we can now imagine.

Arsalan Suleman, a 2L, is from Kenner, Louisiana.

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