By Hend Alhakam • January 06, 2019•Law School
During my law school orientation, my classmates and I were given a blank sheet of paper with an envelope. We were instructed to write down a reminder to ourselves. Please transcribe why you decided to come to law school. All of your dreams, hopes, and aspirations on a piece of paper safely tucked away in an envelope. To be unsealed only in the case of a dire emergency.
For me, the emergency came one week after my first class commenced. I needed to remind myself why I, a single mom with a rambunctious little boy and a never ending to-do list, decided to leave the safety net of a 9-5 and take on the challenge that is law school. Sifting through the black hole that become my book bag, I finally found the ironic envelope. I opened it up and unfolded the sheet of paper.
My handwriting was so nice a week ago.
Tired eyes glazed over the words. They looked like they had been written by someone full of ambition and hope. Someone who had never felt the terror of being on call in a torts class. Yet there I was, in my pajamas, running on empty and completely hopeless. My bright eyed ambition nowhere to be found. This is a lot harder than I thought. I started to read, with the hope that I would find some revelation that would fuel my dwindling courage.
Because this is what I have wanted. This is what I have worked for.
During that moment, the past two years flashed before my eyes. The ironic envelope unleashed more than an emotionally supportive letter from my former (and much more naive) self. I became Law School Scrooge, traveling back in time to appreciate where I am now. I remembered the nights I was hunched over in my kitchen, LSAT prep books taking up every surface of the extendable table. Every few minutes I was interrupted by the aforementioned rambunctious toddler. Every few minutes I would delve into another logic game. Every few minutes I would remind myself this was for me, my future, and my child.
The endless rough drafts of my personal statement came back to remind me exactly why I am here. Born to a war torn country ruled by a ruthless dictator, fleeing to a refugee camp, and understanding what it truly means to have the ability to not only defend myself but others were the roots of my passion for law. I know what it is like to have no voice, to have no ability to speak for yourself, and to exist in a space and culture that deprives individuals of their own autonomy and agency. While the hard work and the turbulent political background are enough to drive someone to take on the challenge that is legal academia, there is something much more intimate that pushed me to the seat I was in during law school orientation.
I did it for me. And I am enough of a reason.
As a daughter, a sister, a former wife, and a mother… everything about my many titles indicates that I was always someone’s something. We as women, from any cultural or religious background, are always being groomed for the roles that we play in someone else's life. These roles are always supportive and secondary for others, but they are the main part for us, our most important functions. We are conditioned to be the acceptable version of someone's daughter, mother, or wife.
We learn how we must act in order to be considered good children, to be respectable wives, and decent mothers. During my life, I seldom find memories in which other women are encouraging me live for myself. To allow my own passions to grow. To unravel my own life and be curious for my own sake, instead of fit into a perfectly curated role to compliment someone else’s existence.
This challenge, this education, this role… is something I chose for myself. It is something I am doing for myself. It is a way to nourish my own intellect, to be curious on my own terms, to dictate my own future and independence. This education will always be mine. The work I do in the future will be my own. This is the reason why I am here.
Still in my pajamas, I folded the letter and tucked it back into the envelope. I got up from the floor of my tiny apartment, ambition in tact. I opened the casebook I had been avoiding and started to read. I can do this.
It is January 2019 and I survived my first semester of law school. I didn’t need that letter after the first time. The first semester was a whirlwind. But I did it and I will continue to push through… For me.