Saturday, August 30, 2008


Well, it's Saturday morning, and I finally have enough time to sit down and tell you about orientation so far.

Day 1 began two days ago with a 10 a.m. section meeting. Mine seems full of good people, and we've liked our faculty leader so far (I've heard rumors that he's a vicious grader, but I'm holding out hope that they're overblown.) Right away he led us in a funny hypothetical exercise about litter laws on a Cape Cod beach, which was supposed to get us thinking like lawyers; then he gave a little talk about how law school is like a foreign language class- we don't "speak law" yet, but our professors will all be speaking it from the day we show up, knowing the day will come when we "speak law" back to them.

Afterward we went on a student-led tour of campus with two former members of our section, ending in a section photo on the steps of one of the older, prettier buildings called Austin Hall. Our guides shepherded us back for lunch in our classroom, which was a shiny new one with that law school horseshoe shape and electrical outlets at every seat. And while we ate, the staff of Student Financial Services and the Dean of Students Office each gave brief presentations. The Dean of Students, Ellen Cosgrove, was both inspiring and funny- her talk was probably my favorite part of the otherwise matter-of-fact, surprisingly no-frills day.

Finally, our first day ended with Registration- a process which at HLS doesn't mean any of the things you'd usually expect. With most everyone paid up on tuition and already on the books with the registrar, and the first-years' course schedules all predetermined, Registration becomes a funny mix of orientation's loose ends. You sign your name in a long roster Harvard keeps of every entering student, bound by year (kind of a moving moment); you pick up your financial aid check; you're issued a temporary Harvard ID card and take the photo for your permanent one; you turn in forms with your local address and emergency contact info; and you grab things like public transport discount coupons, voter registration cards, candy, and assorted swag from various campus organizations who've set up tables. It's kind of a frenzy and definitely an exciting, if overwhelming, way to end the first day. Back home afterward, I could barely stay awake late enough for Barack Obama's terrific speech.

The next morning I was back at school for Day 2, which started in the same classroom with another section meeting. This time our faculty leader, who had assigned a short case for us to read overnight, gave a tutorial on how to read court cases for class. I was happy to see how well Sarah Weddington's class at UT had prepared me for this part! But the review was nice, and there were some new things to learn, too.

Next, we spent most of the afternoon getting to know our section's Board of Student Advisors members. These are six upper-level students, basically TA's for our Legal Research and Writing course (but they're supposed to give general academic support too); each is assigned to a small group of about 14 of us. I'm excited about mine, a female 3L who seems involved in an awful lot of things I'm interested in. She took us to a long lunch at a local pub and answered a lot questions for us, which was great.

Last on the schedule for that day was a welcome speech by our Dean, Elana Kagan, and a reception afterward. All the L1's reconvened at a very cool building on the edge of campus nearest my apartment: the Sanders Theatre in Memorial Hall, which looks like a giant old church from the outside and Hogwarts School from the inside. Dean Kagan gave a lovely, encouraging speech- I already knew I really liked her, but now I also see why people keep saying she has a great chance at the Supreme Court if Obama wins this election.

And the reception afterward was lovely, too- the space they used, which someone told me is the dining hall for Harvard's freshmen undergrads, had me half-expecting to see a staff table full of witches and wizards, or food magically appearing and disappearing on the tables.

But then it was over, and orientation with it! There are still some social events I'm planning to attend, and after classes start on Tuesday there will still be things like the public service orientation and my section's dinner with the Dean. But to be honest, I'm looking forward to settling into a schedule and a regular routine, and doing what I came here to do.

So far, Harvard has been everything I could have reasonably expected it to be. (Not quite the magical haven a part of me was unreasonably expecting, although it has moments.) It probably sounds stupid, but I can't begin to wrap my head around how much stuff here is free! Free food everywhere during orientation, and free coffee in the common areas year-round. School-issued USB drives for every student, free. COURSE PACKETS for our classes- which everyone had to buy at their undergraduate schools, from $15 to $60 and up- at HLS they're free. Plus Microsoft Office- that's Word, PowerPoint, and Excel for our computers- also free! And they claim printing isn't free, but they give every student a $50 credit at the beginning of each year, which I'm told few ever deplete. It's this general attitude of generosity and abundance that impresses me most about this place. Of course, at $40,000 per year tuition, I guess they can afford it. And as hard as we're about to start working, maybe we deserve it.

Well, I think I've run out of steam for now. More soon, though, I promise- maybe after some of the activities Sunday, or after I've had a few classes to tell you about. Hoping all's well with everyone! Much love from your very tired, very lucky, and so far very happy, friend/relative at Harvard Law!

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