Miss Molly Goes to Harvard

Not your average first day of school story from not your average Harvard Law student 

It is the fall of 1985, and I have arrived at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Other students enter the dorm carrying duffel bags and milk crates.  I have matched luggage, a U-Haul trailer, and two parents in tow. We unload, creating for me a nest of familiar things.

I miss Mr. Joe – the wizened African-American man who worked for my family for many years doing yard work and odd jobs.  He had always helped me move in and out of college dorms at Auburn.  One year he told my mom ”I do believe that Miss Molly is moving out more than she moved in.” I don’t think I would have ever lived it down if Mr. Joe had helped me move in at Harvard.

My parents start the 24-hour drive back to sweet home Alabama, and I am left alone in another world.  I don’t know a single person north of the Mason-Dixon line.

I check my schedule, pick up a legal pad and pen, and head out the door.  I find the appointed classroom and join the others at a round table. This is the first meeting of my 12-member Orientation Group.  Nobody is talking, just sitting there quietly, waiting.

A business-like third year student, our O-group leader, enters and takes an empty seat beside me.  He explains the purpose of our first meeting – simply getting to know each other.  Easy enough, I think, not knowing that what is about to unfold will be a story I will tell all my life.  (I share it here, changing only the names of my classmates.)

The leader looks to each side and asks the lanky blond man lounging in the chair to his right to go first.  “Just take about 5 minutes and tell us about yourself,” he instructs.

The lanky man begins, “My name is Barrett, and I am a graduate of Princeton University.  I played quarterback on the football team there.  After college I went to Oxford for two years on a Rhodes Scholarship.”  He continues that he hopes to do mergers and acquisitions.  I sit wondering what that is and whether I might like to do that too. It sounds impressive,

Next up is a feisty, dark-skinned woman, Marina. She is tiny, with short hair, and she speaks quickly, in a Puerto Rican accent, telling a tale of growing up in a poor section of New York.  “I lived with rats,” she exclaimed.  “I have come to law school to get the tools to go back and help my people.”

A big guy with long, frizzy hair and John Lennon glasses take his turn.  He has an unfamiliar accent I learn to recognize as Minnesotan.  “My name is Peter.  I dropped out of college my freshman year and toured the Midwest with a rock and roll band for three years.   I got tired of that and decided I wanted to go to a law school.  I thought, gee, but I have to go to college first.  So I went back to school and finished college in two years, and here I am. I plan to do entertainment law.”

A short, stout Jewish man, with a prematurely receding hairline, introduces himself.  His name is Mark, and his grandfather had raised him.  Mark dreams of being a novelist, and has had some early success with published short stories and essays, but his grandfather thought law school made sense. Mark is still not sure.

We continue around the table. I can hardly listen to the stories that followed, each impossibly more impressive and exotic than the last. Tales of achievement, of hardships overcome, of focused career plans.  My unease grows, rising out of the pit of my stomach constricting my throat, tightening my jaw.   What in heaven’s name can I possibly say?

The woman to my left shares, and I relax a bit.  Her name is Karen.  She is also a small person from New York but warm and friendly, funny and relaxed.  She is not sure what she wants to do but loves fashion.

It is my turn.  I take a deep breath and feel like I am about to jump off a cliff.  Oh well here goes . . . the truth shall make you free . . . just tell the truth.

I begin, speaking quickly, but suddenly very conscious of the musical southern accent that was my native tongue.  “I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, with wonderful parents and one younger brother.  All my extended family lives within 60 miles of my home.   I attended Auburn University where I was secretary of the Student Government Association, in Alpha Gamma Delta social sorority, and active in my church. “  People are listening intently, probably just to my accent. I continue on, formally, uncharacteristically inhibited.

War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen Auburn University 1984

“In college I most enjoyed being a part of a student hospitality group that gave campus tours and worked with the Alumni and Athletic offices.”  (My determination to tell the truth did not extend to my giving the name of the organization, which even to this day is called “War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen.”) I warmed up a bit and told them of my love for Auburn football.  “You just watch – Bo Jackson is going to win the Heisman Trophy this year. “   I spoke about the same amount of time as the others, despite having nothing to say.

The O-group leader smiled at me when I finished, a smile that extended to his eyes, and made me feel comfortable.  “Thank you all,” he said.  “That’s it for the day.”

I’m walking out with Karen, chatting.  “That,”  I say “was the most humiliating experience of my life.  All those fascinating people and then me.”  Karen stops dead in her tracks and turns to face me.  She takes my hand and looks at me intensely. With great feeling and sincerity she exclaims,  “Oh Molly … You were the most interesting one of all.  We have never known anyone like you.”

I was dumbfounded, but the more I thought about it in a way I think she may have been right. Conservative Christian women who loved college football (practically a definition of an Auburn girl) were rather rare at Harvard Law School.  “Normal” people were not the norm.

This experience shapes my writing.  I tell the truth as best I can. I just write about what I know. In my little world in Nashville, Tennessee, my perspective is commonplace, but in the broader world it is not.   In just two months of blogging I have had readers from 31 different countries (including places like Ghana, Bhutan, and Saudi Arabia) spanning all six populated continents.

I now follow other blogs.  The ones I like best are the ones that ring with authenticity, where people are telling life stories and sharing outlooks on the world from their unique vantage points. To my fellow bloggers, as Karen told me, I have never known anyone like you!

Even so, from our vastly different places, we find at times the commonalities that we share, the things that unite us.  And when that happens, we learn something about what it means to be human.

And that, my friends, is something to “Like.”

Proudly wearing the Auburn Orange and Blue

Two worlds meet
My grandmothers at graduation

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35 thoughts on “Miss Molly Goes to Harvard

    1. In-House Counsel

      I guess it was courage in a way…although it did not feel like it at the time. More of a feeling of either say nothing or just dive right in. And this was literally the first day there. It was just dawning on me as I sat at that table what a completely different world I had entered. Thanks for your kind words.

      Reply
  1. Greg Powell

    Molly, You( as your mother before) completely charm me. As I have said before to your mother, I will say to you now. DO NOT EVER Get rid of that Montgomery accent. This is one of the most disarming things you have. I enjoy it. In addition, That is only the first of many things I really dig about you.gp

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks Greg! That is so sweet of you! The accent is alive and well, perhaps with a touch of Texas and Tennessee. And I did have fun with it in law school. A student from Beverly Hills once asked me what we were taught about the Civil War in our schools. I looked at him with a confused look, saying “The Civil Wahhhr? Oh, Honey, you mean the Wahhhr of Nor’thn Aggression…why we just didn’t talk abouuhht tha-at.” You would have been proud of me!

      Reply
  2. Pidge

    Molly, I read your blog and identify with so many of your Southern phrases, memories, and experiences. I feel like you give words to our common backgrounds. I want to share all your stories. I wish we could do just that over a mason jar of sweet tea sitting on the porch at Lake Martin. Maybe one day soon! Thank you for writin’ the truth. Bless your heart.
    War Eagle. Pidge

    Reply
  3. disciplinedvault

    I think it’s awesome you were able to be yourself at during one of the “transitional” parts of our lives. I wasn’t open about my religious beliefs and I would have tried to fit into the “scene” around the table. Luckily, I am past those insecurities. Congrats to you for always being yourself!

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      It was a transitional time- very good choice of words. If you notice my “About” page I state that I “was grounded at Auburn University” and I think that is really key here to how I was able to navigate law school. I not only had the blessing of a faithful family as a child but during those critical young adult years I was at Auburn, and that was (and still is) just a great place to finish growing up.

      Reply
  4. Renee Robinson

    I was an Alpha Gamma Delta too, Molly! At West GA. Funny though, you went to my 2 dream schools. I became a fan of Auburn during the Stan White era and always wanted to go to school there (I followed my high school sweetheart instead). My true dream was to go to Harvard Law School and become a criminal prosecutor. I’m glad God showed me an alternate path as I would have been awful in that profession! I love how this post shows the uniqueness that is in every one of us.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      How interesting! I well remember quarterback Stan White! He was after my time at Auburn but he was a good one. That is unreal that we connected blogging about walking barefoot and have all these other common interests. I look forward to reading more of your work.

      Reply
  5. Gayle Woody

    Your posts do ring true – I enjoy them and also share them with others. God Bless you and keep up the good work! Real people are always refreshing because there are (dare I include myself?) so few of us.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thank you, Gayle. I do appreciate you sharing my posts with others. It has been an amazing thing to see how things I just put out there manage to find their way to people who might need some encouragement or a smile. I know you must have found that to be true with your good writing as well. Yours was one of the first blogs I found that helped me envision how this all could work.

      Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks Mark. So glad you liked it. I have told this story for years. Recently in a decluttering binge Mom gave me a notebook of old letters I had written to her from law school, and in the first, there was this story, basically the same as I had been telling. It was fun to have my memory confirmed.

      Reply
    1. In-House Counsel

      It was an amazing place. In fact, as I have been sitting here responding to comments tonight, one of my more interesting classmates has been addressing the DNC on behalf of her husband the President. I bet if I sat at the table with all those same people today it might be an even more unbelievable gathering! But I think I would be a bit more comfortable!

      Reply
      1. becwillmylife

        Indeed, it would by quite a gathering….to hear and observe how life’s experiences have molded all of you. So the first lady was a classmate, huh? That’s pretty awesome in and of itself. You can say….I knew her when:)

  6. shrinkingthecamel

    Great story. I am sure many of us can relate to the humiliation of “being normal.” However, the fact that you went to Harvard Law I would say puts you in the exotic/interesting category… Right? 🙂

    Reply
  7. oliveshootinstitute

    Heart beating fast as I read your post. I admire you for having strength to speak your truth and the Truth! I would have been very intimidated by you for your boldness and would have found you fascinating in a weird way. You would have probably found me to be the angry, hurting, strident feminist I was. I want to read more, you have a great voice.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: A Notable Classmate « In-House Counsel

  9. Grumpa Joe

    I loved your story. Be proud of yourself and your heritage. Your conservatism is so needed in our country today. I hope you maintain that and work diligently to bring real hope and change to the world..

    Reply

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