On a whim, I opened my personal statement for the first time since hitting ‘submit’ nearly a year ago. Preparing to face my tendency to over-write, a habit which lends itself to often-cringeworthy grand pronouncements, I queued up the Aspiring Public Interest Lawyers Greatest Hits: “Is It Still Worth It? (After Signing that Promissory Note),” “Oh, Really? You’re Going to Save the World?” and the classic, “Naiveté.”
Instead, I came face-to-face with the prospect that the young, impressionable, wannabe lawyer nursing the cheapest drink on the coffee shop menu in exchange for five hours of Wi-Fi knew everything he needed to know.
See? Grand pronouncements.
Sure, one year ago, I would have failed every single first year course. I couldn’t brief, or outline, or read, or write, or even speak effectively. My Lexis points stood at zero and I had nary a dollar of Westlaw Starbucks gift cards. Every one of my classmates would have prayed to the almighty curve I was in their section. One year ago, I was a terrible law student.
But I was a better person. Not morally, ethically, or financially- I was still too selfish, left my dirty clothes on the floor, and had no money. Instead, I was pleasant. Less stressed. A more dependable friend. My sense of humor included precisely zero jokes about battery or consideration. The work I did was meaningful, despite not being on the exam. I cooked. I left my apartment. I read books. For pleasure! Books without self-important covers. I was passionate about justice, about the difference I was convinced the law could make.
I’m still convinced. Yet, as the bliss of the first eight weeks fades away, as ungraded midterms become graded finals and seven-page memo drafts become fifty-page outlines, I have a creeping feeling that I need to get back to the coffee shop. To find and feed that spark before it gets lost in an unwieldy Word document. I need to come to terms with the fact that I may never know what I’m doing in law school, but I’ll always know why I came to law school.
Until fourth grade, I wanted to be a bus driver. School, not coach. Definitely not city. I turned eleven. Things got complicated. I read a book on Martin Van Buren, one thing led to another, and suddenly I wanted to be president. That dream lasted until I topped out at 5’9” and a B- in Algebra II dashed my chances at Harvard. So, Plan B. Make money. Like every blue-collar-town kid who once saw a friend driving a BMW, I thought comfort would make me happy.
Well, it wouldn’t. And it didn’t. Every immersion trip and class on social justice told me so. Still, I hung on to that dumb idea until March of my senior year at Holy Cross. Until divine intervention struck me right in the middle of a non-major English class in the form of a YouTube video. David Foster Wallace, and his famous commencement speech “This Is Water.” As stupid as it sounds, those twenty-two minutes were both electrically new and immediately comfortable. The answer to that timeless, Jesuit query, “how then, shall I live?”, seemed to be- however you choose.
In that moment, I realized what I lacked at twenty-one was not earth-shattering advice, but perspective. I was reminded of my grandmother. She dropped out of high school at sixteen, working full-time as a mother for twenty years before getting a job in a factory. She kept at in, took night classes, moved up the ranks, and retired when I was six. She died a year later, of ovarian cancer, but left behind my tuition to Holy Cross.
A woman who barely knew me changed everything. If I could decide how to see the world, that was the world I wanted to see.
So, I took out my notebook and wrote my personal statement.