Last week I made a big choice.
I declined offers and withdrew outstanding applications from each law school across the country that I’d applied to last Fall.
Last week, I pressed the “Submit” button on my Statement of Intention for law school.
Last week, on the forms for other schools, under the heading “If Declining, What Are Your Plans for Next Year?” I scrawled two words: Go Tribe.
Last week, I officially accepted my place as a member of William & Mary Law’s Class of 2015.
The decision was the fruit of countless phone conversations, email threads, Skype chats, trusted counsel and long dinners. Advice was sought from peers young and old, alumni dead and alive, Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millennials. Lawyers and non-lawyers. Advice was sought from the distilling of tea leaves, the reading of stars, the presence or absence of black cats crossing roads, and the lyrics of Lupe Fiasco, John Mayer, and, though I’m loathe to admit it – Old Crow Medicine Show.
It should surprise no one that when it comes to law school, everybody, even dead people, have their opinions.
When the dust settles, though, and Skype makes it’s cheerful little blooping sound indicating your video call is at its end, it’s just you. And the more I thought about it, the more I learned to do something simpler than reading star charts: to go with my instincts on this one.
So after an application process that seems like a lifetime, here’s where I stand:
During his Opening Convocation remarks on a hot August day in 1998, then-President Tim Sullivan asked a crowd of very green (and gold?) freshmen: “Why are we here?”
I’m sure as that question hung thick in the August air between the brick embrace and long late afternoon shadows of the country’s oldest college building, not a small number of freshmen must have swallowed hard, looked around, and thought to themselves, “Jesus, what am I doing here?”
How do I know this? Because on August 31st 2007, that freshman was me. The venue was the same, but the remarks were delivered by a different man, the College’s then-26th President, Gene Nichol.
On that day, many of us were thankful that the summer heat and business casual attire were sufficient to explain away the sweating, both real and imagined, that accompanied that ceremony. After honoring College alumni of remarkable achievement and prominence, alumni who gave of their lives in service of a greater good, there wasn’t anyone amongst us not a little bit alarmed as Nichol opened his arms wide, that metal badge of the President’s Office bigger than a Kanye West necklace swinging across his chest, and asked, no, demanded of us in that voice of so much passion: “What will you do for others?”
This past week, I’ve found myself anticipating my second Convocation – one that, perhaps five years ago, I’d never have expected. But this Convocation will be different in crucial ways from my first. While many questions remain unanswered about what the coming years will hold for me at William & Mary, I arrive armed with an answer I was not, could never, have been in possession of as a freshman. One surety Sullivan didn’t anticipate fourteen Augusts ago.
I spent my undergraduate years striving, at every opportunity, to answer Nichol’s question for myself. To make sure that as I moved through William & Mary, I never lost sight of that one crucial thing that was asked of us years prior. And although I will spend much, if not more, of my time trying to continue answering that question in law school, I realize in hindsight that in my efforts to answer Nichol’s question, I inadvertently answered Sullivan’s as well.
To Nichol’s question, I left bits of answers in Nicaragua, Honduras, Romania, Haiti, Petersburg, Williamsburg and North Carolina. There’s a stone on the Senior Walk of Old Campus with a big fat percentage next to “Class of 2011,” but even that, I suppose, is only a piece of an answer. I can always do more. That was Nichol’s goal: he understood humanity’s need for service to be unquenchable. There are always injustices left to fight, causes left to champion, voices unheard and long silenced left to speak on behalf of and liberate from censure. I know now, because of my own desire to do more, that Nichol imagined a William & Mary that graduated students of unmatched eagerness into a world of unrelenting need. Students who walked tall, pressed their aspirations and staked their claim. Students trained to speak, as the adage goes, even when their voices shake. The perfect compliment of any university to the world outside its gates. That inability to accept that the world can’t be a better or more just place was to be the most common denominator of our shared humanity with those living outside the brick walls and creeping ivy of William & Mary. By having experienced firsthand a workable campus model of democracy, fairness, literacy, service, and diversity of class, race, perspective, orientation and religion for all, students would seek to expand and make viable that model for larger communities. The nation’s first law school, with its history as the legal training ground of citizen lawyers, will empower me to operationalize my understanding of this fact in the powerful, and legal, service of others. William & Mary is singular because when it was established in 1779 at the urging of Thomas Jefferson, it became the first of its kind to recognize this need and devote the resources towards addressing it. William & Mary’s is the model upon which legal education was built.
Nichol’s question informed how my first chapter at William & Mary unfolded, it’s complexities a catalyst for my second.
Sullivan’s question, however, gets at the why of William & Mary for me.
That’s an answer I came to earlier last week, and it requires remarkably less exposition:
I am returning because William & Mary is my home. Because it understood all of these things nine years before the Constitution and ten years before the Bill of Rights. Because it’s where I learned to be my best self, alongside peers and faculty who were encouraged to be the same.
Because it has the Cheese Shop.
Because it preaches citizenship in a world of selfishness, and because for my legal education, I cannot imagine being anywhere else.
This August, I’ll have unfinished business.
Brian ’11, J.D. ’15