I remember the first time that I walked the vaunted halls of HLS. After years of dedication, I felt blessed and privileged to be an incoming Harvard Law student.
And yet, despite Dean Minnow’s reassurance that the admissions committee had not made a mistake, that in fact they had searched the world for us, I shared the nerves and insecurities of my peers.
Worried about showing up late to my first class? Check. Worried about not getting my books on time? Check. Worried about embarrassing myself beyond repair during my first cold call? Double and triple check.
Now two years older and still petrified of cold calls, I recognize that underlying my concerns was the fear of not fitting in. I struggled to internalize my accomplishments and carried a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It took me a few weeks into my first semester to realize I was not alone in dealing with what is commonly known as impostor syndrome.
My fear of not fitting in grew exponentially when I began applying for professional positions. I was raised by two tremendously hardworking parents. My dad worked in construction and my mom, all 4′ 11″ of her, hung off the edge of Los Angeles skyscrapers, cleaning their windows.
My parents are my role models, and seeing them get ready for work every morning in a translucent vest, hardhat and steel-toed boots shaped my notion of a work uniform. I saw their uniforms as empowering symbols of hard work and perseverance.
However, the idea of having a suit as my work uniform made me uneasy. As a first generation law student, I had never owned a suit and didn’t know the first thing about tying a Full Windsor knot or differentiating between wingtips and cap toes. With EIP and OPIA interviews approaching, I grew anxious.
Thankfully, I did not need to take this next step alone. We have all gotten to this point because we’ve overcome substantial trials and tribulations. I was hesitant to share my distress because I knew how trivial it could seem. Still, I eventually opened up to a friend. The next day we jumped on the Red Line, made our way to downtown Boston and together we picked out my first suit.
I know we’ve all heard it by now but it warrants repeating — the people at HLS are what make it a world-class institution. Last year, HLS held its Third Celebration of Latino Alumni. During the festivities, I grew close to one alumnus in particular as we bonded over our Los Angeles roots. She asked if I had suits for my summer internship. I told her that I had my first suit but would welcome help selecting my second. Before l knew it, she put me in contact with her husband and that spring break I received an early Christmas present when he took me shopping to fill out my summer wardrobe. I was blown away by their generosity and eagerness to help. They only asked for one thing in return: that I pay it forward.
I used to shudder at the idea of networking, the thought of having to force a connection with a stranger. However, my experience these past two years has taught me that networking can take a whole different meaning when you stop thinking about it as seeking professional connections and allow yourself to simply make human connections. You were chosen as much for your impressive abilities as a student as for your remarkable traits as human beings.
As you enter HLS, you might feel your insecurities and innermost fears will alienate you from your peers. From first-hand experience, I know you’d be badly mistaken. Confronting them and overcoming them alongside your classmates is what will bring you all together.
Remain open to the amazing collection of individuals you will meet in your time at HLS because, with over 1,500 classmates, you WILL meet amazing individuals. You will undoubtedly have your share of fears — we all did and do — but don’t allow the fear of letting people in be one of them. Let people in and they just might surprise you.