Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Meeting Justice O'Connor leaves law student feeling inspired

I have a confession to make: I never watch the news. I was shocked in my 1L orientation to realize how much some of my fellow students knew about politics and the government. For example, when my 1L class was shown a picture of the Supreme Court justices, it seemed like everyone except me rattled off all of their names together. At that point, I could only name two people who had ever served on the Supreme Court. knew that John Marshall had because he was my middle school’s namesake (go JMMS!), and I knew that Sandra Day O’Connor had because all of the strong, dominant women in my family admire her as an agent of change.

Meeting Justice O’Connor was the most inspiring and least expected way to end my 1L year. (That's me on the far right in the photo.) While anticipating her visit, I imagined lofty inspirational lectures and the imparting of that special wisdom that only celebri-sages have to offer. Instead, I met a practical, bright and bitingly funny woman. At her fireside chat at the Dole Institute, she described her start in the legal profession, which was modest at best. Upon graduation, Justice O’Connor found no one willing to hire a woman lawyer. So after a difficult job search, she worked for the San Mateo County Attorney’s office for free at an extra desk in the secretary’s office. Her story was funny and personal, but it carried a cogent message for law students in today’s economy. “Sometimes,” she said, “you’ll have to be a little creative.”

Her responses at a law student question-and-answer session were straightforward, honest and sometimes painfully blunt. When a student asked about her opinion regarding controversial legislation affecting Native Americans, instead of giving her opinion, she responded, “Have you written your congressman? No? Well, write him.”

Two take-home points from her lecture focused on how to approach a career. She was determined to communicate that “happiness is work worth doing.” While enjoying one’s work seems like an obvious life lesson, it impressed me that this was what she wanted to highlight as what she had learned from her career. Following a question regarding which decisions she regrets from her time on the Court, O’Connor explained that one key to her success was never thinking about that. O’Connor explained that she puts all of her energy into the front end of her work by solving problems the best she can the first time, and saves no energy for looking back on how she might have changed her decision.

Comparing my work (this week: finals prep) to hers (this week: continuing to be of monumental importance to the history and the future of the United States) by most logic makes my life pretty pale. However, the combination of Justice O’Connor’s stories of her modest start and her message that full investment in one’s work leads to great success, personally and otherwise, has me inspired. The work ahead feels less like a hurdle and more like “work worth doing.”

- Alyssa Boone, 1L and Student Ambassador

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