October of 2019, just one year ago, feels like a different world.
I had just received my LSAT score as I was sitting at a car service shop with my laptop, waiting for an oil change and completing my first law school applications. I remember the poorly formatted sinkhole that is the LSAC website, and obsessing over every comma and margin—imagining some doomsday scenario in which a tweedy and officious admissions officer made a decision based on some typo I had neglected or word I had misused.
I figured that after a few months of apprehensively refreshing my Outlook junk folder (where all my law school emails automatically went for reasons I’ve never been able to determine) I would start receiving admissions decisions. I imagined flying from place to place, attending admitted students’ weekends and trying to figure out what the next chapter looked like for me. I also imagined where I would be a year later, attending class and getting to know new people.
Waiting for those decisions proved difficult. I spent my downtime watching movies. This helped me take my mind off of the admissions message boards that I scrolled through each day, examining the auguries’ of my peers’ decision results to try and predict how I might fare.
In an old World War II movie I watched, there was a scene in which a pilot regaled his buddies about the travails of “flying blind” through dense cloud cover and fog across the English Channel. The phrase stuck with me. It perfectly described where I was at, and what little I knew about what was on the horizon.
In December, my decisions started coming in. That’s when I started seeing headlines about a mysterious disease outbreak in China, but I didn’t pay much attention. It seemed like some bizarre flu was always occurring somewhere. By late February, as COVID-19 began to spread throughout the world, I planned a multi-state trip to visit a number of law schools on my list. On the day I was set to leave, I had an afternoon meeting at the Massachusetts State House, visiting with some old colleagues of mine from when I worked in Governor Baker’s office during college. Little did any of us know that just weeks later, the very offices we were sitting in would suddenly resemble wartime conditions, manned by National Guardsmen in fatigues, as Massachusetts officials grappled with responding to one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States. A Biogen conference in Boston just days later, blocks away from where we were sitting, would result in 20,000 cases of COVID-19 in the state, and a staggering number of deaths—an incalculable loss.
As I left the State House and boarded a flight to Miami, and as the night lights of Greater Boston dimmed in the distance, I had this sense of dread and foreboding—not only that a major life decision awaited me, but that something even bigger was about to happen. Then, sitting on the tarmac days later in South Bend, Indiana, I overheard the person on the phone across from me talking about how they were beginning to seriously doubt their company’s trip to Germany in March was going to work, given some of the reports coming out of the countries hit early with COVID-19.
In the last week, I had been in a taxi in Coral Gables, FL, a museum in Atlanta, the Washington Monument in D.C., and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the University of Notre Dame campus, among other places. As I sat there wondering about my own risk, the pilot came on the intercom and said we had to wait for some intense rain to pass before we could take off.
“Flying blind,” I thought.
The last stop on my trip was New York City. I had seen so many schools that they had started to blend together into this cold amalgamation of lecture halls, libraries, and academic jargon that was lost on me. My concern over coronavirus was growing. The first restrictions and travel bans were going into effect, and stories of desperation in Italy and elsewhere shocked the conscience. But I was still so consumed by this idea of going to a great law school and becoming this big time lawyer that I just kept going. I would have taken the LSAT with bats in Wuhan if it meant more points on my score or more options on the table. I was not thinking clearly. I became a product of the process.
When I got to New York, one of my first stops was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I noticed the Holy Water had been emptied from the large fonts in the entrance, a measure to prevent the spread of a critically misunderstood and mysterious disease that at that point was only thought to have infected a handful of people domestically. At my meeting at the school the next day, my guide asked to refrain from shaking hands, which in retrospect serves as an illustration of just how little we understood about COVID-19 in those early days—that we thought that was sufficient to stop its spread.
After folding and unfolding and ironing my suit out of a suitcase more times than is prudent, I was finally headed home to Boston. A few days later, while sitting in my living room, I got a notification on my phone that the NBA had cancelled its season after a player tested positive for the coronavirus.
That was when it felt like the floodgates finally opened. Within 24 hours, other leagues, businesses, schools, restaurants, and seemingly every other fixture of public accommodation made a similar announcement. The circumstances went from scary and misunderstood one day to exigent and apocalyptic the next. The world shut down.
The rest of the story is one shared by us all: runs on the supermarket. Eating canned soup and snacks in front of a television watching the governor flanked by his ASL interpreter tell the public there were not enough masks, not enough tests, and not enough time. Each evening President Trump and the Task Force addressed the nation from the White House. The days began to blend together.
But I still had a major decision to make. Rigid, august, and a master class of Kafkaesque bureaucracy, the Law School Admissions Industrial Complex was not going to wait for me, pandemic or not.
With everything closed, even the local running track roped off and policed, I went for rides in my car, trying to make sense of it all. I would drive to Albemarle Field in Newton and take walks. As I walked, I recalled playing baseball, football, and soccer as a kid on that very field, and was overcome with nostalgia. Each day I would go on a similar walk, trying to get as much physical activity as I could with gyms closed, along with everything else in the world.
It was a period of great anxiety for everyone, and I was no different. I could never compare my angst with those working on the front lines, or the sick, or those worried for loved ones. This wasn’t a time for me, a healthy, fit 23 year old, to be complaining. I had my health. People were getting sick and losing everything. Nobody needed to hear me fuss about how I was feeling about law school.
But on the inside, I was deeply torn. What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? Was this the time to be relocating? What if school didn’t open for another year? What if the economy didn’t recover quickly?
I had never felt like this before. As a first-generation college graduate, an entrepreneur, and now on the precipice of law school, I had been overcoming challenges my whole life. I was good at looking at a difficult situation, figuring out the best thing to do, and solving the problem. I excelled at analyzing risk and reward and seeing issues before they happened. But this was one problem I couldn’t solve. There were too many unknowns. With each day, the statistics on COVID-19 became more sobering, the projections more dim, and the notion that this pandemic wouldn’t last, and that just hunkering down for a few weeks would suffice to stop the spread, seemed increasingly in doubt.
I thought about the new necessity of having to buy masks every week, along with the usual groceries. I thought about what having to “shelter in place” would look like thousands of miles away from home. The world was changing rapidly, and things were far different than I had imagined at the beginning of this whole process. I was truly flying blind in every sense of the term.
Here’s the thing: even though BC Law had always been one of my top choices for school, I always entertained the idea of changing my scenery, and going somewhere new. After all, I grew up just a short ride from the campus. But now I started to see things differently. While some people were exasperated with being home all the time, I started to view the situation in a new light. With so much uncertainty all around, there was something to be said about being close to what was familiar. With so much loss in the world, having the opportunity to go to a great school in my own backyard started to seem like a no-brainer.
In early May, I went over to BC Law and walked around the shuttered campus. There was not one car in the parking lot, or one person in sight. Yet, it was in this absence of community where I discovered what truly matters.
The flaws in the law school application process are as inimical as they are numerous. It puts one on this perverse treadmill of prestige and neuroticism. It obstructs you from seeing what is important in life. In the crucible of COVID-19, of everything that was lost, the one thing we gained was time. Time to stop and think and reflect.
I had something great. I could see myself at BC and felt comfortable knowing everyone and everything around me—something that in a time of so much uncertainty suddenly became a huge advantage. Beyond this, BC went out of its way to make the entering class feel welcome and “at home,” to the extent that is possible remotely. Interactions with other schools often felt tone-deaf—maintaining this veneer of austerity as if the world wasn’t literally coming down around us. BC made everyone available, and warmth emanated from virtual events, even through a Zoom screen—the aesthetic of our time.
After an application process that was longer, more anfractuous and mercurial than I could have predicted in my wildest imagination, I decided it was time to land the plane, and go to the place that quite literally was home.
I walked over to the benches in front of the Law Library and took a seat. Despite the fact coronavirus cases were at their highest levels, and things were as bad as most of us can remember, the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and for a moment, the maelstrom of the state of our world subsided.
With nobody around, I lowered my mask and smelled the freshly cut grass. Here is the place for me, I figured.
Home—your community, your family, your people. That’s what is important.
I had the opportunity to have it all.
I was flying blind no more.
Tom Blakely is a first-year student and a brand new Impact blogger. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.