As my law school career wrapped up in 2003, I wondered if I would be asked to give a speech since I was the valedictorian. What would I say?
Lucky for everyone, my law school didn’t do student speeches during graduation.
A decade later, I still wonder sometimes what I would have said.
I wasn’t as
snarky funny then as I am now, so I probably would have been very serious and made a heady speech about how we have to use our degrees for the betterment of humankind. I would have quoted famous lawyers like Lincoln or Kennedy or Ed from that TV show about the lawyer who runs a bowling alley. I wouldn’t have had the chutzpah to mention Costco because I couldn’t afford a Costco membership until I had a few years of that phat firm salary under my belt.
I probably would have tried to skew my experiences to make myself sound more service-y and socially conscious than I had time to be. Because guess what? When you are busy over-studying and convincing yourself from DAY ONE that you should make every sacrifice possible to make spectacular grades or maybe something awful will happen (like death or being “merely average”), there isn’t much time to recycle your Diet Coke cans, much less give back to society in a meaningful way.
It’s a pretty self-absorbing enterprise to study so hard to you end up first in a law school class of 170 other students.
So I guess I could say a few things to those law students starting out this month, even though I’ve heard that millennials don’t give a rat’s tooter about what an old fogie like me has to say.
I’ll say it anyway.
First tip: Don’t leave thirty minutes into a St. Patrick’s Day parade to go sit in a Caribou Coffee alone outlining the principles of interstate commerce for a final exam that is still 8 weeks way. Don’t cancel a date scheduled for Sunday because your ungraded property law mid-term is on Tuesday afternoon. If you look around and there is no one else in the library on a Friday night at 6PM, then maybe you need to take a hard look at yourself and ask, “Why am I here without a single one of other students in my class?”
Because here’s what you may find out if you are a law student like I was: It’s awfully lonely sitting in the library when everyone else has decided, sanely, to have dinner with their families or head out of town for the weekend or to home to watch the OC while doing laundry. The whole damn thing is so unbearably lonely it makes my heart spasm to remember it.
To be clear, when the registrar confirmed my GPA, I had moments of total euphoria. I’ve worked so hard for this. And I had.
I loved everything about law school: Intellectual challenge. Great professors. A promising career waiting to greet me with open arms and billable hours requirements.
But I was also hiding. I was hiding behind the studying, studying, studying because that was easier than dealing with my personal life, which was stunted in ways that would be painful to grow through. Law school achievement was a shield I used to distract myself (and others) from what was obviously missing in my life: Deep and meaningful relationships (especially the kind that could be celebrated with sexual intercourse).
So it was amazing to land where I did in the heap, but I knew the truth: I didn’t have the courage then to take my foot off the gas and un-bury myself from my studies so I could also work on relationships and my personal life.
I would have traded a few tenths of a point for some of the social skills I was missing, if I’d only known how.