Welp, we finished our first round of Zoom-based classes! Hopefully the mystery and fear of that part of this recent chaos has passed, and you can begin to envision (hopefully with some certainty) how the next few weeks may look. Without a doubt, this is not what any of us hoped for, and none of us are welcoming this experience with open arms. I get it.
I laid awake last night thinking about this moment in time, and I felt compelled to share a few words with you. This recent chaos has caused me to reflect back and think about where we’ve been in recent history and some of those moments that have changed the world as we know it.
I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. Perhaps you do too. I remember sitting in the back row of my class when someone came into the room and insisted my teacher turn on the news. I remember being confused and scared; I didn’t understand what we were seeing. At first we thought it was a horrible accident, but then there was another. And another. And another. I remember walking outside between classes and noticing that there were no airplanes in the sky. I had to ask permission to call my mom and ask her to pick me up early because cross country practice was cancelled for the day. I don’t think I was fully capable at that time to realize just how drastic a 56-minute span would have on the rest of my life. I’m not sure I’m fully capable of understanding it now.
I started law school in 2009, as families and communities across the country (and world!) were experiencing the fall out of the 2008 financial crisis. We will never return to the way things were before 2008. I saw upper classmates struggle to find employment, and then I walked across the stage to receive my law degree at the same time the housing collapse was hitting one of its lowest points. No job prospects, I had no idea how I was going to earn the money to pay back my student loans. The next day, I packed up my apartment and moved back to my parents’ home, where I slept on an air mattress and began studying for the bar. One night, my parents—I’m sure well intentioned—waited up until I got home from studying for the bar to tell me I was working too hard and that this was just a silly test. The few practicing lawyers I could get to return my phone calls or emails offered useless advice—had I considered calling the local prosecutor? They are always hiring and will take anyone. Right.
I saw the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I saw the Oklahoma City bombing. I have seen the City of New Orleans underwater. I have seen this country elect its first African-American president. I saw the legalization of gay marriage. I’ve seen city floods. Communities devastated by tsunamis. H1N1 and ebola health scares. Wildfires and mudslides. Seemingly unending wars across the world. The election of Donald Trump. The impeachment of Donald Trump. I’ve seen scandal and moments of great humanity. Victory and defeat. Celebration and tears.
Each of these moments, and so many more, had a fundamental impact on the world as we knew it. Many changed the world in such a way that we can never return to the way things were. For better or worse, each launched us into uncharted territory. Sometimes occasions call for happiness and celebration. Other cause great grief and loss.
Unfortunately, we are in yet another—and an extreme—time of uncertainty. If we are being honest, we must all admit to being scared, anxious, overwhelmed, and perhaps even helpless.
Allow me to extend my hand and hopefully offer a voice of comfort. I can’t tell you that a magnificent day is coming where we will all just go back to life as normal; in fact, I can almost assure you that things will never be the same. I can, however, assure you that you will never have to navigate this new world alone. I am here for you all, and I hope you are here for each other. Be sure to spend time taking care of yourself and building and maintaining a community around you.
Also take some comfort in the fact that we are built to handle change. We are built to find a way or make one. We are built to make it work.
I also want to assure you that, no matter the world in which we find ourselves, there will always be a need for lawyers. By the mere virtue of your law training, your community will look to you for leadership and wisdom. Indeed, in the coming months and years, lawyers will undoubtably serve a critical role in how we move forward together. Even in the midst of all of this, there is still a place for you. We still need you, and we need you to be ready for the challenges ahead. In a very real sense, now is the very best time for you to be exactly where you are.
I know that you are all navigating a million and three trials right now, and that you aren’t getting what you signed up for. Despite all this, know that I am for you, and I am dedicated to your success. I want the best for each and everyone of you. I want you to accomplish your goals and be happy. My interest in you will never change.
As we continue to preserve together, I hope that your UMass Law community and I can be the source of at least some comfort and continuity. Please don’t hesitate to reach out at any time.
All my best to each and every one of you,