“I don’t know if you have the drive to make it here.”

By Rachel Cash

Further education was the expectation in my household. My mom recently earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, accomplished while working as a leader within a large automotive company.  My dad earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance and excelled in the insurance business. For me, it was not about if I was going to college, or even if I was going to continue my education after college. It was a given. The only question in my life was what will I do after college? If I didn’t get a degree in engineering, accounting, or journalism, what will be the next step in my education? P.S. I got an English degree with a focus in Old Literature, which we all know the modern usefulness of John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer. Naturally, I was completely lost when I graduated. Not only lost but scared out of my mind concerning the job market. I took a year off after undergrad.  I had a college degree and was making $10 an hour working retail.

Long story short, I decided that I hated working retail and needed to move in a direction, any direction. My mind still pivoted and pulled in every direction, but the common thought was that I wanted to start businesses – and I need to figure out how.  This led me down a rabbit hole of Google searches on holding companies and how to establish one. To deviate from the story, as a law student, you probably have some irrational need to understand; understand the laws, understand policies, and understand legal structuring of life in general. Google couldn’t tell me specifically how to structure a holding company; in fact, it highlighted the need to get a lawyer to ensure you are doing it properly.  So the only rational solution set for an irrational need to understand was for me to go to law school.

Fast forward to 1L orientation, we had a luncheon with alumni. The incoming class of 2017 settled at the round tables in the Great Hall, nervous and intimidated after a day full of what to expect from law school. The table I was at was full of young women from all walks of life, many who were the first in their family to graduate from college and/or high school, had children, been directly affected by the legal system, and those highly dedicated to public interest. Now, I am sure everyone knows what it’s like to wait your turn to tell about yourself as everyone goes ahead of you, thinking about what you are going to say and trying to calm your nerves. I listened intently, amazed at the women I would eventually graduate with. Everyone at the table had finished and it was my turn to tell why I had chosen to come to law school. Now, as I have discussed earlier, my reasoning was simple at first, I wanted to know: how does one structure a holding company? But the concept had expanded and become complex.  With a legal degree I could use it as leverage in the business world, it would be a tool in my toolbox, give me credibility, expand my language, and expose me to different ways to approach situations. Standing there, I fumbled through, trying to explain why I was at North Carolina Central School of Law. Concluding in a rush, I sat down and the alumna began to give her feedback. She went around the table discussing how inspired she was by the stories she heard, individually addressing the adversity that was overcome or the honorable motivations of the other young women.  

When she got to me she literally said, “I don’t know if you have the drive to make it here.” As an incoming 1L, I may or may not have gone home and had a real cry. I half-heartedly combatted the statement by explaining that I had a English degree and a law degree would add merit that would be necessary in my future.  She rebutted back about the challenges of law school and how you need drive for the law to make it through. The conversation ended just as abruptly as it started, and small talk resumed at the table.

Looking back at this moment there are three lessons I want to discuss in regards to entering law school and where I am now. First, take this one throughout all your walks of life: we judge people by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions. This school is small and you will encounter a whole lot of foolery. Take this alumna for an example; as a 1L, all I could see were her actions. I can recall thinking and telling my support system how she singled me out in saying maybe I didn’t have the drive to make it. A year and a half later, I realized that my colleagues, the professor, the “judgmental” alumna, and anyone else I meet in life can view my actions, and I can view theirs.  But just like me, every person has a system of complex synapses controlling the intentions for their actions. The alumna may have been trying to push me to dig deeper to find my true passion [drive] for the law.  Or she might have been push me to the realization that I’m in law school for the wrong reasons – go home.   I don’t know and I will not try to justify her actions. I am just more cognizant that we judge people’s actions on actions alone and ourselves by the intention behind the actions. Others’ actions aren’t so black and white, revel in that grey. P.S. Discuss that grey area on exams.

Second, though I have a sense of this grey area, there is right and wrong. This basis may not be tied to the law or what’s right may oppose the law, but common sense is a virtue.  The alumna may have had some intention behind her words and she was entitled to say whatever she wanted; however, her delivery was wrong. Once you discern what is right and what is wrong, learn from it. That alumna’s actions have shaped how I will interact with incoming 1Ls who may be nervous and unsure as I once was.

Thirdly, I know now that no one can define or measure your drive. My first year of law school I did well, regardless of a so-called lack of “drive.”  I controlled my level of participation and learning and consequently understood more.

What moves every person at this law school is different, but that does not take away what’s moving them. Even if your drive was stitched together by an irrational need to understand, you belong here.  

Cash graduated from North Carolina Central School of Law in May 2017 and was sworn into the Michigan State Bar this past November.