The virtues of excess baggage


For many people, the 1L experience tends to follow a rather predictable pattern. Students enter school prepared to become absorbed in the academic and social environment that permeates life at one of the elite institutes of higher learning. Most students experience a wide range of opposing emotions. The excitement is coupled with a large dose of anxiety; the anticipation is liberally sprinkled with worry. The typical questions and concerns tend to run from fears of academic inadequacy, to the fear of falling prey to the worse fate of “not fitting in.” It is with these thoughts in mind that students move their stuff into an assortment of dorms (or walk-in closets posing as dorms) and off campus housing and summarily throw themselves into the social and cultural environment by attending as many events as humanly possible.

At least that’s what most of us do. As a husband and the father of two young children, the story of my experience here deviates from the typical plot lines. From the very beginning, the decision as to which law school to attend was a complicated one. Where would my wife work if we moved to Boston? Where would my kids attend school? Which community would be the best place to live? Is it even economically feasible for me to return to school? Would my wife be happy in Boston? Would she find any friends there?

As a family we pondered these questions, and after much debate we decided that this opportunity was too good to pass up. Arrangements were made, bags were packed, relatives/friends were kissed goodbye, and off we went to the wonderful city of Boston. Throughout this process, I sensed a certain reaction from the single students that was puzzling to me. Whenever my situation came up in discussions, the unattached students always seemed to feel as if I had made some sort of monumental sacrifice. “Oh,” these students would tell me, “it must be so hard for you.” The general consensus seemed to be that I had made an extremely difficult choice, and there was little to envy about my particular situation.

Well, I am not going to sit here and tell you that you should envy my situation. I also will not tell you that my circumstances made me a better person than any other student. Nor will

I attempt to sell you the idea that I somehow have more to contribute to the class than anyone else due to my “experiences.” In fact, the more fellow students I have met the more I have realized what a talented and intelligent group of people make up our class.

However, I do strongly believe that the common view on my situation is somewhat one-sided. Yes, sometimes having a family can make being a student a little harder. In the same way that any of the emotional, physical, financial or relationship “baggage” that we all carry can sometimes strain our resources and force us to weigh our different priorities before making decisions that for other people may be easy. Yes, it is a lot easier to move a couple suitcases into a dorm room than it is to move an entire apartment worth of furniture, clothing, kitchen utensils, etc. I will not lie to you and tell you that at no time did I envy my single friends.

What I will try and tell you is that I think who we are as people is very much a product of the “excess baggage” we carry. The decisions we make, the growth we achieve, and the challenges we meet would not be possible without some struggle. Each of us has some form of baggage, some issues that we have to deal with that may or may not be unique to us. However, it is very often as a result of that struggle that we are most able to grow and achieve. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today (which is not much but is probably better than the alternative choices) if not for my wife and kids. Having the responsibilities I do have made me take things a little more seriously. For me, all of my actions carried greater consequences and the price of failure was substantially higher. I am a strong believer that a person does his best when the pressure is high and his back is to the wall.

So I propose that we salute our excess baggage, and appreciate the struggles we have endured. Maybe if we can appreciate the role our problems have played in our growth we would meet these challenges with a different attitude. I am not proposing that we fall prey to the “everything is great” method of optimism. There are times when such overwhelmingly happy people leave me fighting back the urge to vomit. However, I am proposing that we take the time so study our growth and raise a glass (or two) to our struggles because without them we may not be where we are today.

DK is a 1L who lives with his lovely wife and two kids in Brookline, MA.