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.
“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.”