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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thoughts on graduating

Today the darnedest thing happened: I graduated from law school. That means I don't go to law school anymore, because I took all the classes and I passed them and now I'm qualified to do new, different things, and those things don't require me to go to law school anymore. See?

I heard that both L and Mom got choked up at graduation, as the procession began and we all marched to our seats in our chunky maroon robes. I was surprised to find myself nonchalant about the whole thing. I did get nervous when we stood to walk across the stage. I didn't want to stumble, or have my scarf thing get twisted, or have some weird hair issues with the silly beret they made us wear. I really enjoyed clapping for people as they received their diplomas: my friends, people who did really well and got honors, people I didn't know but sort of liked anyway, people who made me laugh in class through their humor or pretension or weirdness or utter implacability. I also enjoyed not clapping for the people I didn't like; I felt oddly empowered to be able to deny my applause to those people.

The speakers were uniformly good, and intelligent, and concise. They emphasized the relationships and family dynamics that characterized the law school, and talked about the importance of public service and time with your loved ones amid the hectic practice of law. They seemed actually human, in a profession that can seem bureaucratic and petty beyond belief. It made me hopeful, and it reminded my that my future is a completely blank canvas. There is some fear in that, I guess, but I feel like I have an education and some knowledge and, more importantly, some people I love who are the bedrock of anything I could hope to do with this degree of mine.

I don't know how I feel about graduating. It feels like I outlasted something tenacious and difficult and angry, but somehow I'm the one left standing. I had to be reminded that this graduation is the beginning of something -- if I was on the street tomorrow, and someone asked me what I do, first I would avoid eye contact and try to move away, but if they persisted, I wouldn't know what to say: I'm a law school graduate? I'm going to be a lawyer in a few months? My occupation is studying for the bar?

One thing I really struggled with in law school was the fact that I felt like I was doing worse, and was thus perhaps stupider, than a lot of my classmates. After first year, my grades put me solidly in the middle of the pack, and I was told that firms "would not be fighting over themselves to get to me," which was a grim moment. After spending two years under this cloud, thinking I was worse than everybody else and was missing some element of lawyering that all these other ridiculous people seemed to have, I felt like a puppy that got kicked too much, just cowering and cringing in the corner when other people started talking about legal theory. My summer work showed me that I did indeed have skills that were valuable in the work place and important in real life (social skills, good humor, etc), but that law school didn't seem to acknowledge. I felt like an outlier.

But then, this year, my grades have been pretty darn good. Maybe the professors were being generous, but I worked hard and I was really proud. Perhaps I figured out the system just in time to leave it, which is appropriate -- after all, if you've stopped learning then it's time to move along. At graduation I didn't feel bitter about the people winning Latin honors, which I secretly hoped for but knew were unlikely for me; I knew I finished strong and that I was just as smart and capable as anyone else there. I'm glad I didn't end law school feeling the way I felt for so much of it: stupid, unqualified, unequipped. Looking ahead I don't think I would ever spend three years in a place that made me feel that way. And I don't think I would let something as stupid as grades have so much power over me. Hopefully I am too smart a dude for that.

*****

We have had a very busy weekend. On Saturday, as the day-long block party bustled on the street outside, my grandparents and parents drove in from Virginia and my sister flew in from South Carolina. Before meeting everyone in the morning I ran a 10K, my first run in Central Park since the marathon. Once my family arrived we met them at their hotel near the Flatiron Building, then came down to see the apartment and wander around the kiosks of the fair. L got a necklace with a small gold circle, in which is imprinted a simple "L," and I love it -- it's perfect. We had an early dinner at Stand, and then once my grandparents were safely ensconced in a cab the five of us wandered up through Union Square to Shake Shack, enjoying the early summer air below the cheerful light bulbs in Madison Square Park.

This afternoon after graduation we proceeded directly to a Chipotle in midtown, then returned to the hotel in the rain and made it back down to the apartment. We ate at Fig & Olive in the Meatpacking District and explored the streets for a little while, watching the sky turn pink as the sun sank into the Hudson and the city evening descended before us. Then everyone returned to the hotel, and L and Kels and I came back home.



It has been a great, and exhausting, weekend. I have so much to be thankful for. And I have a lot of things to consider.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Your graduation experience sounds a lot like mine.

Congrats to us! I am living in Springfield, VA for the summer during BarBri, so you should come visit me!