Sunday, May 20, 2007

Law School Graduation

I went to a friend's Law School graduation today.  I have not been to a Law School graduation since my own, more than 15 years ago.

It was a rather different affair from my graduation.  I graduated from (she says as she polishes her fingernails on her lapel) what is arguably the top rated Law School in the country.  Everyone in the graduating class had a good job already lined up.  And we were assured that, with this degree on the top line of our resumes, it would always open doors for us.  We were a relatively small graduating class from a very reputable school.  Even though the job market for new lawyers had taken a bit of a downturn, we all knew we had achieved something that would be a huge asset to us for the rest of our lives. 

Today's graduation -- very different.  A good school with a solid reputation in the area, but nationally, not considered a first-tier school.  The Dean's remarks to the graduating class talked about how the students had an obligation to go out there and pass the Bar exam in order to advance the school's reputation.  Instead of the "you have arrived" message of the speakers at my own graduation, the theme was more of a "you done good, now keep fighting" message.

Several graduating students walked across the stage accompanied by their young children.  I started wondering about their stories.  How did these people juggle family responsibilities while learning the Law -- something to which I was lucky enough to be able to devote my full attention.  Were these part-time students, who held down jobs while studying?  Did they have spouses at home carrying the financial (and parenting) burdens while they were working toward legal careers?  Or were they single parents, who somehow managed to do it all themselves, in the pursuit of a professional degree that would enable them to better support their families?  Whatever the answer, it had to have been impressive.

I had some vague idea of the academic pressures they'd undergone.  It ain't easy.  I was damn near bursting with pride for my graduating friend -- and she did Law School, as I did, with the financial support of her parents and no work or familial obligations to stand in the way of studying.  But when I thought about what these students with small children had accomplished -- as loud cheering sections of friends and relatives hooted and hollered for them -- I damn near wept. 

A few years ago, I got my SCUBA certification.  I almost didn't get it as I kind of suck at most things physical, and it was only the lucky fact that our final dive got postponed to later in the day -- enabling me to practice for a few hours in the hotel swimming pool -- that enabled me to pass the damn thing.  It was a three-day course and, in a lot of ways, passing that was a hell of a lot harder than graduating Law School -- after all, there'd never been a time when I'd doubted my ability to finish Law School.  When my Dive Instructor signed off on all our cards, the other students were suitably pleased about it -- they could now check "get SCUBA certified" off their "things to do" lists.  And when he signed off on my card, he congratulated me and said it was "hard fought."  I don't think I'd ever heard the term before, but it came back to me today, watching those graduates cross the stage holding little kids by the hand.  A "hard fought" victory, to be sure.  I joined their friends and families and applauded loudly for each of them.  I have no doubt they'd earned it.

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