The forty-something having fun at law school in this meme is supposed to be me, I imagine. But the cigar-smoking golfer is John Daly. Hard-driving, hard-drinking, ‘Long John’ Daly. He’s played golf most of his life. He still plays golf. Through alcoholism, failed marriages, and personal turmoil, John Daly keeps playing golf. And he’s 56.
Funny thing, golf. Even the best player in the world is going to lose. A lot. And they’re going to lose for one very simple, very human reason. They just weren’t good enough. Maybe the greens were faster than they like, or their short game was off. I don’t know; I don’t play golf. But whatever the multitude of reasons, there’s only one that matters. On that day, in those conditions, someone else did it better. For whatever reason.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit as we’ve plummeted towards final exams, and as I’ve watched the sick realization of competition take hold and threaten to distort friendship into rivalry. I’ve thought about losing, and law school, and what I can learn from John Daly. And what I’ve decided is…
The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), has created a widespread public health crisis, larger than what most of us have seen before in our lifetimes. This is not, however, the first-time members of our community have faced an unprecedented life circumstance. Your classmates deal with issues such as food insecurity, homelessness, chronic physical and mental illness, family tragedies, and much more, on a daily basis. When members of our community face these issues, absent a pandemic, we tell them to suck it up. We tell them the curve is what it is and they just need to find a way to solider through, or we contritely tell them “hey, B’s are still passing,” when we all know full well that in a tight job market, the arbitrary difference between a B and a B+ can be the difference between employment and unemployment. An overly competitive curve is all well and good when it only effects the have-nots, but when it starts to affect the “haves” as well, then we start paying attention.
Coming into law school, I had many choices to make. Several of them were financial: where I would live, how much I would take out in loans, and whether I could hold a part time job during 1L (that final one was a no, which made things very tight during those many months of learning how to Bluebook and outline). I had to decide who I would befriend on the first day of orientation, who I would trust as study partners, and who I would go to when I was having a horrible time with my lot in life.
One thing I was determined NOT to do was to allow the confines and constraints of law school to turn me in to someone I would be ashamed of, or someone I just didn’t like.
And then I met “the curve:” the infamous, fixed grading system that pits section mate against section mate and keeps many law students up at night.