Packing Light but Doing Heavy Lifting: On Leaving for Law School

On Sunday, I leave for law school. Everyone keeps asking if I’m excited, but I’m reluctant to characterize the range of my emotions in a single word like that.

So, how do you tell someone “I’m actually about to do what I’ve been saying I was going to do since I was 14, and I still can’t really believe that I was 14 eight whole years ago and that I graduated from college 3 months ago, and although I was feeling pretty restless and stifled there at times, now I’m about to move to a new city, with new people, and embark upon what everyone has told me are going to be some of the most challenging years of my life, yet every time I read a newspaper I get giddy and depressed at the same time because I keep coming up with reasons why I’m needed, and hopefully within the next 3 years I’ll actually be equipped to help out” ? You say: “Yeah, I’m excited.”

In the midst of juggling these emotions, I have to pack. I have to select which aspects of my life are necessary and portable, and most importantly, which aspects are necessarily portable, who is necessary and portable and necessarily portable–even if their move won’t be physical. In a way, I’ve been doing that all summer, but now that it is coming down to the wire, it feels different.

Of course, you take the obvious things like clothes, although I’ve been wondering if I should have gone shopping for more “lawyer-like” clothes. I think I have enough suits (both pants suits and skirt-suits) from previous internship and career fair days, but what do law students wear? To be completely honest, I don’t really care. I ignored the world-famous “fashion show” that occurred on my own undergraduate campus for four years, so why start paying attention now? Or should I?

Luckily, a lot of my essential, heavy duty items are still in storage, where I left them after graduation, so I don’t have to think about them, but there’s that artist part of me that can’t neglect the symbolism of bringing things from my old school to my new school. Will they sustain me or keep me trapped in the past? Will they make me feel warm and fuzzy and remind me of all the times my friends and I stayed up talking about life until 3 a. m. on that same couch in what we used to call “The Den” or make me cry my eyes out as I sit on it alone in my new apartment realizing that they are all gone and I have to go participate in “ice breakers” if I want to find a new group to do that with (after studying until 2 a.m., of course)? In reality, I won’t be getting all new accessories and furniture anyway because there is tuition to be paid, so….all of this sentimental debate is not even an issue.

Then, there are the things that make me me, like my books. Yes, everyone tells me that I will want to burn every book I own once I start law school because my eyes will begin to water (and maybe even bleed) at the mere sight of a group of letters grouped together in a specific phonetic sequence in an attempt to formulate a word, but does that mean I’m supposed to leave Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones behind? What about Derrick Bell’s The Faces at the Bottom of the Well? (I mean, he was a legendary legal scholar.)  Then there are my notebooks–because what’s a writer without her notebooks–and my radio and my stuffed animals (yes, I’m 22 and they still come too, sue me).

But the most interesting items I’m taking with me are the ones I didn’t expect to have to carry. A few weeks ago as I was sitting on my front stoop, a neighbor of mine, who has lived in the backyard of his mother’s nearby house my whole life, walked up to me. It was clear to me from both his walk and his brazen entrance into my front yard (which he has never done before) that he was high or drunk or both, but mostly, I could see that he was in a deep state of reflection. He told me that he had heard that I had graduated and he said that he was proud of me.

I thanked him. He asked what I was planning to do next, and I told him that I’d be going to law school. “Oh, I’m going to need you!” he laughed.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that line every time I told someone I was going to law school, I could’ve paid my tuition for all three years, five times over, but I try to appreciate the expression of pride that I know is intended with each statement, as well as the earnestness and the life behind it.

“Will you defend me?” he asked.

“Will you remember me?”

“Don’t forget me.”

I told him I wouldn’t forget him, and that I hoped I wouldn’t have to defend him, but that I would, if need be.

He leaned in closer to me and grabbed hold of the banister, as if to keep himself steady. “You know I wanted to be a pilot?” he asked.

“No, I never knew that.”

“Yeah, I went to school for a while. At the city college, downtown, you know?”

I knew where it was.

“I didn’t finish though. I couldn’t pay, and then I messed my life up.” “You can see that.”

I was silent, trying to figure out where I was supposed to keep this regret he was handing me. I decided I would  wrap it in understanding of life’s difficulties and tie it with a bow of gratitude for my blessings and opportunities, but where to put it?

This past weekend I went to a family barbeque. Technically, I will not be the first lawyer in my family. I may, however, be the first lawyer on the side of my family that raised me, the one with which I am most and best acquainted.

“You going to law school?!” my cousin-uncle exclaimed. (Yes, cousin-uncle. Cousin is his relation. Uncle is his title.) “I’m going to need you!”

Wish for a nickel. Laugh, nod, understand, appreciate.

“She gon’ put our family on the map,” he announces to my mother, in between bites of his hamburger. “This girl…she’s already done it.”

He’s my favorite cousin-uncle. I am happy to make him happy. Proud to make him proud. He gives me a big hug before he leaves and turns to look at me one more time before he walks out of the door. “No pressure,” he says and smiles.

No pressure. Where do I pack family pride and reputation? Will it fit?

My other cousin is a few years older than me. We don’t see or speak to one another very often, except for at family functions. She tells me she cannot believe I have already graduated from college, asks me what I studied, says it feels like just yesterday we were celebrating my high school graduation. We talk some more and she says she admires me, says she tried the school thing and doesn’t think it’s for her, isn’t sure what she will do now. When her friend comes over later she brings him right over to meet me.

“This is my cousin, the one I told you about,” she tells him.

“Oh yeah, the one who went to…”

“Yeah, that one…” she finishes. “She’s going to law school now.”

He shakes my hand.

I am shocked. I made an impression on someone I  only see twice a year? Enough for her to tell her friend about me? At the end of the night, we exchange phone numbers and she says she’ll add me on Facebook.

And then there are the graduates. So many of my former classmates with whom I graduated high school and college are already out here on life’s seas, some rowing without a paddle. My friend tells me she has been feeling depressed lately because, like me, she is a perfectionist semi-control freak and so far her life isn’t going the way she ever thought it would go. I tell her not to despair, that there are many different roads to success. She tells me I am right and to “go get ‘em, girl!”

If I stick my generation in my suitcase, will I have to sit on it to zip it closed?

And I thought packing the right wardrobe was complicated…HA! I’m going to need a U-Haul.

 A May 2012 graduate of Howard University and a rising 1L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Britney Wilson is a poet and freelance writer and blogger. Visit her blog Mut(e)iny at

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