We have fully entered the Spring semester here at Wake Forest, and first year law students like myself are wrestling with new questions, challenges, and doubt about who they are and what they are capable of.
I was reminded of an apt analogy watching the super bowl this weekend. You see, every single player on a professional football team, from the starting quarterback to the third string punter, was the man at his high school. But then he got to the pros, and it became a whole new ball game.
For the most part, you are not admitted to a good law school without being a smart person, but when you arrive you quickly become average. That can be incredibly difficult.
We have a massive assignment worth a significant part of our spring semester grade due next week. It's hard work, and this week I've stayed at the school past midnight each night to get it done. I turned it into my professor for feedback, and tonight I was told my work didn't reflect the hours I had put it. Ouch.
At the beginning of the semester, GPAs and Class Ranks came out and many law students realized just how average they are. It is abundantly clear to me now how easy it can be to lose yourself when you make academic success your identity. Folks who are used to being the smartest, most successful people in the room now have empirical evidence that is no longer the case. It can be crushing, stressful, and depressing.
The stats for law students' mental health aren't good either: 18% of law students have been diagnosed with depression, 37% screen positive for anxiety, and 22% of law students report binge drinking.
So what do we do about it? We have to begin to look for our value outside the four walls of our law schools; we must find what defines who we really are, not what our grades quantify us as. We are more than class ranks and GPAs. We are living, breathing, humans who have value and purpose.
David Foster Wallace spoke at Kenyon College about the choices that are open to us, to assert our humanity and to ground us in what really matters.
I took one in the jaw tonight, and if my identity was found in my grades it would crush me. That is not to say I'm not bothered, not disappointed with myself, and not wishing I had done better. But rather in success or failure, I know who I am. I can get up tomorrow morning, and get back to work.
Thanks for reading,