This Friday I spent part of a very peaceful afternoon de-cluttering my e-mail inbox, which is always a funny process of reliving whole stretches of my life in just minutes. As I scrolled past birthdays and various technical edits for my journal, I realized it was around this time last year that the American Studies department where I majored in undergrad decided to feature me in their annual newsletter.
They asked for 600 words about my experiences since graduation, which I remember finding difficult because so much seemed to have changed for me in such a short time. But I managed to keep it brief, and it was interesting to re-read what I chose to say and remember how I felt just a few months into law school, so I thought I’d share. It went like this:
It’s amazing the places my American Studies education has taken me over the past year.
Just last March—which sometimes feels like yesterday, sometimes a lifetime ago—I found myself in New Orleans researching a senior thesis on that city’s public housing. Placing great trust in my professors’ advice and the power of scholarship money, I had chosen to focus my vague ideas about housing projects on a single city I’d never even visited—and suddenly, I was there. I spent my spring break not only elbow-deep in archives at Tulane University, but falling in love with New Orleans: its food, its architecture, its bittersweet mixture of community spirit and lingering racial and economic strife. By sheer benefit of majoring in American Studies, I was no stranger to these issues. It felt like having instant access to a secret history seldom revealed to outsiders like me.
It’s a long way to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I’m now a student at Harvard Law. But American Studies has had its influence, in one form or another, at every point along the way. Throughout a difficult law school application process, few people were more supportive than my thesis advisor, Steven Hoelscher. And that classic skill of seeing documents in their historical context, stressed so heavily in American Studies, has been useful since my first day here. Not to mention the AMS course that convinced me to study law in the first place: Sarah Weddington’s “Gender Discrimination,” which I would recommend to anyone interested in testing the waters of a legal education.
Of course, nothing could fully prepare me for the reality of Harvard Law School. Life here moves at a breakneck pace, so I was very lucky to arrive in Cambridge after a relaxing summer, a full month before school began. Unlike some of my classmates, I had time to plant my roots and explore the Boston area before things got too hectic. Its marriage of big-city bustle and college-town eccentricity reminds me of Austin in many ways, and I feel more like a local every day.
However, Harvard itself has quickly become the real center of my world. It’s just as challenging and stimulating as you’d predict, full of brilliant professors and demanding coursework. But our 18 classroom hours each week also compete with an impossible number of student groups, volunteer opportunities, and prestigious speakers seeming to arrive daily. Unable to resist, I’ve wound up joining a small reading group that meets in one of my professors’ homes, working on a law journal, and serving as an exit pollster on Election Day. Most rewarding of all, I’ve also joined a student practice organization called the Tenant Advocacy Project, which provides legal help to public housing tenants. TAP is the most enriching part of my Harvard experience so far, and I might never have joined were it not for UT American Studies and the thesis I wrote there.
Luckily, exhausting as all this can be, it still isn’t the Harvard Law of The Paper Chase, One L, or even Legally Blonde. At today’s Harvard the professors are kinder, the classmates more social, the administration more approachable, and the free coffee more bountiful than the reputation suggests. As our fabulous Dean put it during orientation, “The competition is over. And you won.”
If that’s true, it is largely due to my experience in American Studies at UT. There I discovered the issues I’m passionate about, and here I’m learning how to make a career out of them. It’s been a match made in heaven so far, and I can hardly wait to see where it takes me next.
It’s pretty cheesy in retrospect, and of course it credits my undergraduate program with an awful lot. But looking back, I think it also really captures my enthusiasm as the first semester of law school drew to a close. Now that I’ve gotten comfortable and take Harvard for granted a bit more, it’s good to be reminded of what makes this experience so special.