The TV sitcom Frasier debuted on NBC in 1993. The premier episode introduced the series’ principal characters and the plot of the show: a Seattle psychiatrist turned radio host, Frasier Crane, returning to the city after working in Boston following the events of Cheers, alongside his brother Niles, also a psychiatrist, and his father, Martin, a widower and former police officer who retired after being shot and permanently impaired by a suspect following a long career on the force.
Martin and his dog Eddie move into his son’s upscale, downtown apartment, followed by his housekeeper and English physical therapist, Daphne Moon. Frasier becomes upset by the dated furniture his dad brings, as well as having the dog indoors, setting up a clash of independence, age, lifestyle, culture, perspective, and family. The two get on each other’s nerves and have a fiery argument.
The next day on his radio show, Frasier goes to the phones to talk to his callers, only to find an apologetic Martin on the line. Frasier then apologizes for his own arrogance and reconciles with his father.
It’s a clash of two different worlds, to be sure. I am reminded of this scene as I am faced with my first day of 3L, and, in all likelihood, my last ever first day of school. In my own mind, I feel like both Frasier and his dad at times—in the middle of a transition to a new life, but with a foot still firmly planted in the past.
I remember my first day of school. Actually, I remember all of them: preschool, kindergarten, first grade, middle school, high school, undergrad. Even though the first of these memories was 20 years ago, many of the feelings—anxiety as the summer winds down, fear that your classes and schoolwork will be troublesome, curiosity about seeing friends and faculty again–always feel the same.
I was speaking recently about this with someone a good bit older than myself who is far removed from her days in school, who told me even all these years later, she still feels the same sort of “back to school” dread when this part of the calendar presents itself. Back to school, back to “work,” back to a life of consequence. For me, at least for the last three years, that has been at BC Law. During my time here I’ve been lucky enough to host the school’s podcast, and be able to write in these pages. A lot of what I write and what I do on the podcast revolves around this idea of the bigger picture, of evolution and change in perspective. I often speak of the human impact of all this: law school, this profession, everything that it entails. I’ve spoken of being a first-generation student, the barriers to entry, systemic problems and obstacles, inequity in trying to advance one’s self in this realm.
On the podcast, I’ve been able to interview law professors, investigative reporters, politicians, attorney wellbeing experts striving for change, folks versed in international relations, war, constitutional law, and so many other topics. I’ve been able to interview classmates, friends, and members of the community. In my 3L year, I want to do so much more to explore this new world and my own place in it.
But my old life is still, reassuringly, very present. One thing that’s always been the same for me at this time of year is family. Just recently my mom asked me about whether or not I have the books I need, what classes I’ll have, and said I ought to get a new backpack. I’m certain I could rewind to every year in the last 20 years at this time, and find us having the same conversation. I also wonder what we would have thought, all those years ago, if we knew what it would look like all these years later.
It’s crazy to think that after 20 years of school, this is the final act—likely the last time “back to school” bears significance before one day when I send my own kids to school. In our first week of 3L, so many friends made similar “last first day” and “19th grade” themed posts on social media. Despite everything that has become so automatic about this threshold of the year, there is no doubt a sort of melancholy reflexiveness when it comes to this particular one. And while so much has changed on every “first day” that has happened in the last 20 years, there is one thing in the background that has always quietly been there for them all—family.
So a large part of my identity, as I’ve come to find, is being a first-generation student and professional. But what does that mean? When we write about it, we tend to focus on ourselves: our careers, this place, these jobs. In doing so, certain people are overlooked—those who helped make these achievements possible. Too often first generation status is viewed as this sort of individual achievement, something that makes me feel awkward to be congratulated for.
Over the summer, I found myself in a meeting at a federal building with Department of Justice attorneys and FBI agents. We went around the room, talking about our careers. I introduced myself, talked about some of my background and being First Gen, and what I wanted to do. Many of these folks, themselves quite accomplished, were taken aback, congratulating me in a way that felt as if I was being seen as someone who escaped something, or overcame something.
While perhaps shades of that are true, we tend to think of adversity and diversity as a sort of linear storyline—overcoming bad things to reach good things.
Perhaps at times in the way I’ve written and spoken about my background, it can seem that way. But it’s not true. I couldn’t have done it, nor would it have been worth it, without my family by my side for those last 19 first days of school. As I embark on this last go round, I want to thank my dad, Tom, my mom Jennifer, and my sister, Rebecca for their support in helping me get to this point. Because it wasn’t just my last first day of school, it was also my family’s last first day.
You see, on a prior First Day–whether it was at my elementary school in 2003, my middle and high school in 2009, or my first day of college orientation–the thought for my family, from the humblest of beginnings, that the last of these days would be in law school, particularly this one, was just never a part of the imagination, certainly not mine.
I suppose that’s part of the challenge of First Gen. But on the other side of that, the storyline, the “rags to riches” character arc central to so many tellings of the story of the American Dream, as personified through my family who was there for each of these “first days,” is what makes it so rich. While the challenges at hand have certainly changed throughout each installment of my education, my family was always there to help me figure out how to meet them, and as much as anything else, just being there for me.
There is a lot to be said about the idea of “being there.” Whether it was being there for the panic of realizing I forgot a project poster board at home in the first grade, the growing pains of middle school, the college admissions process in high school, or applying to jobs and taking exams in law school, while everything was changing, the thing that did not change were my biggest supporters rooting for me to help me get the job done.
The idea of growing pains, however, is also important to think about. Because as with one’s physical growth, they too exist with respect to one’s growth across other areas. It is here where, for First Gen folks, through the years, culture, class, education, and many of the familiar dividing lines of our time can become sources of conflict, as your goals are trained higher and higher, requiring you to become comfortable in places that look and feel increasingly unlike those you’re familiar with.
I spoke recently with an attorney at a large firm who heads up the firm’s First Gen affinity group, and he told me that a major dilemma First Gen students face in law school is not knowing how to network. He wasn’t suggesting an unfamiliarity with the topic–his advice was more along the lines of Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “when you get in the endzone, act like you’ve been there before.” It’s hard sometimes for people that have never been “there” to act like they have.
At times, I’ve found myself being both Frasier and his dad Martin in that episode—either in a new world struggling to feel comfortable with the dissonance and clash of cultures and ways of life, or like Martin, longing for the simplicity and basic goodness of past times.
When I think about myself and my family on that very first day of school so many years ago, and how things are now, I’m proud to see how far we’ve come. But there are times when things are difficult–when it feels like I have to be multiple versions of myself, sounding like some technocratic automaton when speaking with a firm, then sounding like myself again with family and friends. Across all the “first days” and all the growth and work that was necessary in order to get to this point—there were a lot of those moments of uncomfortable change, and feeling caught between worlds—just like Dr. Frasier Crane and his dad.
Each first day was important for me in developing the perspective I have now. I’m sure we all cringe to think of prior versions of ourselves when we were younger, what we thought was cool, how we would act, and some of the distance between those versions of ourselves and who we have worked to become. There are also many good things about all of those first days—important, formative, and often imperceptible experiences that taught us what we like, who we are, and who we want to become.
While the first day of school is always a time of anxiety and uncertainty, I can now look back on the first First Day, from my last First Day, and see how all those growing pains were necessary. I know I’m certainly not alone in having found myself at the end of a summer wishing there was one more week—struggling to acclimate to school, and dreaming of a day when it would be over. But now it is. And I see it differently. I see all the growth, and how important it is to lean into the challenges. It wouldn’t have been possible without family and a sense of confidence that the story had at its end a great ending. If Frasier Crane had instead decided that his new world and life was just too incongruous with the old, and concluded his dad and housekeeper moving in wasn’t a good idea, there probably couldn’t have been a show. If I had at one point decided I couldn’t belong in this world, or that it was just all too improbable and I should settle for a different career, I wouldn’t be here, writing this.
And as much as anything else, from all these First Days, learning to have a sense of humor and not taking ourselves too seriously are important things to gain. Not every First Day, in fact none of them, are the end of the world. I look back on the growth and see each First Day as a building block, building a bridge between different worlds—a mosaic of culture, class, and achievement that feels like a fitting end to the story.
Or maybe, the beginning of a new one.
Tom Blakely is a third-year student at BC Law, and co-host of the Just Law Podcast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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