A Breather for Some Madness


When I was accepted to Harvard Law School, a fellow caddie at Myopia Hunt Club in my hometown told me, “You’ve got the world by the strings, kid. Don’t blow it.” His cautionary and inspirational words reminded me of a passage in the famous Cantabridgian film Good Will Hunting. Toward the end of the film, Will’s friend, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), tells Will, “You got somethin’ that none of us have… you’re sittin’ on a winning lottery ticket…[and] in 20 years, if you’re livin’ next door to me, comin’ over watchin’ the feckin’ Patriots’ games and still workin’ construction, I’ll feckin’ kill you.”

For better or worse, the caddie and Chuckie are emblematic of the way most people view Harvard students. While few of us have the natural gifts of Will Hunting, most find ourselves in an awkward position of having earned the admiration of people young and old, all the time wondering if the awe of the Big H is really a smokescreen for our own averageness.

HLS students opine at length about our lack of sleep, our busy schedules, and our incessant need for more caffeine in an effort to cure our insecurity about whether we belong at a storied institution like Harvard. The crammed calendars and interminable meetings reflect the worldview of former University President Lawrence H. Summers. Summers suggested that in order to reach the pinnacle of the professional world, particularly in highly competitive arenas like law and academia, people must exhibit extreme levels of commitment to career, working late nights and weekends with 24/7 availability. Summers was chastised, and ultimately forced to resign, after he reasoned that this level of commitment contributed to fewer women in tenure track positions at the University level.

While HLS students report unheard-of levels of busy-ness with pride, all accounts indicate that the workload of law students and young lawyers is unhealthy. According to the New York Times, about 20 percent of lawyers will suffer depression at some point in their career. In an effort to curb depression and defection of young associates, firms have increased bonuses, and even employed so-called “happiness committees.” According to the Times, Perkins Coie offers its young associates candy apples and milkshakes. Mouthwatering as these may be, the tactics of happiness-building employed by firms miss the big picture of why lawyers report such despair.

The ever-increasing demand for billable hours naturally curtails the amount of pro bono work young lawyers can partake in. Moreover, the drive to partner, which has become more difficult in recent years, even leads young lawyers to take their work with them on vacations-shipping boxes of paper to chic Caribbean resorts. The work never stops.

We cannot blind ourselves from the fact that the world turns its eyes and ears to us for advice and guidance about how to address the planet’s greatest problems. At the same time, we are not egotistical enough to believe that this fawning over Harvard students is deserved. This dual realization places the Harvard student in a difficult position. She can shoulder the responsibility fate has bestowed upon her and in the process sacrifice her own conception of personal satisfaction to fulfill the expectations of outsiders.

Alternatively, she can rebel against the outsiders’ reverence of the Harvard degree, and in the process risk the personal and professional fallout that accompanies this challenge to the irrational, but deeply-felt belief that Harvard students are in a unique position to change the world.

Neither of these options is particularly enticing. The problem with each is that we are asking too much of ourselves and fail to comprehend the nuance of the world’s expectation. The world does not demand that the offspring of Harvard sacrifice their own personal happiness. It merely asks that we use the gift of a Harvard education to improve the world. The Dean’s new program of tuition forgiveness will enable more HLS students to fulfill this noble mission. But economics and milkshakes only go so far. The happiness of HLS students and alums depends on a meaningful balance between personal and professional life. That is where basketball comes in.

March Madness begins this week. There is the usual bracket buzz around campus-many excited to be part of a major sporting event, others eager to veil their lack of knowledge of NCAA basketball with a Cinderella run of their own in their organization’s pool. For Harvard students, filling out the bracket comes naturally. We understand competition and we crave it. The harder part for the Harvard student is sitting down on the couch for a few hours to watch the Madness unfold. The weight of a 372-year-old university and the opportunities it presents never subsides.

In fact, as I write this, an email about yet another two-hour meeting has lodged itself in an ever-expanding inbox. Maybe this time, I will not seek an excuse for not going. Maybe I’ll take a breather for some Madness, and start my Spring Break a day early.

Andrew L. Kalloch is a 2L.

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