Grab the Opportunity to Build a Better HLS

Walking into the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School, past the pillars of Langdell Hall, and under countless portraits of Supreme Court Justices can be a hefty experience for anyone and is especially weighty for new students. This establishment brings with it years of history, institutions, and tradition. But the secret of this place is that despite all the pomp, privilege, and circumstance—the thing HLS needs the most to continue being HLS is you.

When I first arrived on campus to pick up my ID Card, room key, and packet of fliers I never read, I met my first classmates: a veteran who had served several tours in Iraq, an elementary school teacher who taught for 5 years in Japan, a Goldman Sachs Analyst who talked about numbers in the billions, and a former 8th grade heavy weight wrestling champion with an uncanny wit for capturing a room. I was so enraptured by how brilliant, sharp, and impressive my classmates were. As I lugged my two overweight suitcases up the stairs to my dorm room and heaved them to the floor of the empty room, I was surprised to find myself crying of happiness. The rat race of high school, college, and jobs had landed me here next to some of the smartest, most capable people I have ever known.

But what is truly amazing about this story is that after two years of intense course work, competitive job searches, and endless reevaluation, I still feel this way about my classmates. Over the years, my classmates have continued to surprise me beyond their intelligence with their humor, see Parody, their compassion, see the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau or the multitude of Student Practice Organizations and Clinics, and their drive to be a part of better world. Yet, in learning and practicing the law I have also been exposed to the cruelty, unfairness, and imperfections of people and our society. Fortunately, we are uniquely positioned to change that reality. But, we can only invoke that change by looking beyond our textbooks and reinvesting in people and our communities.

80% of newly admitted students stated that “the opportunity to be of service to society” was among the reasons they came to law school.[1] While there is a lot of room for improvement in society writ large, there is no better place to start than right here within our own HLS community. In working towards a more open, innovative, and inclusive HLS, we can create one microcosm of the world we want to see. So, I urge you to get involved in this community. Run to be the elected Student Government representative of your classmates. Invest in your new relationships with kindness and generosity. Cultivate a community that inspires new ideas and act on them. Bring your full abilities and diverse experiences to the table unapologetically and join me in building our best HLS.

If anything, this school has taught me that it is the students, with their specificities, experiences, and unique capabilities that have built HLS into the mountain of accomplishment that it is. It is the greatest asset we have here, and deserves to be put to good use. I am thrilled to welcome you to a new year full of possibilities and look forward to seeing what we can collectively create.

[1] Jenee Desmond-Harris, “Public Interest Drift” Revisited: Tracing the Sources of Social Change Commitment Among Black Harvard Law Students, 4 Hastings Race & Poverty L.J. 335, 346 (2007)

Leilani Doktor is a 3L. She is the co-president of Harvard Law School Student Government.

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