In his initial hours as a Columbia Law School student, Jamaica native Michael Sharpe ’19 marveled at the diversity and talent of his new classmates, including a United Nations peacekeeper, a dude ranch supervisor, an ordained monk, a rare-sneaker collector, a classical pianist, and a Duke basketball beat reporter. They came from dozens of countries around the world and spoke a range of languages, such as Creole, Thai, Farsi, Polish, and Swahili.
“Before arriving on campus, you hear all about the amazing students Columbia Law School attracts, and you realize from the first handshake or interaction with classmates how impressive everyone is,” said Sharpe. Earlier, the new students had just embarked on the first session of Orientation 2016, an intensive program designed to introduce the incoming students to academic life, the legal profession, and their classmates. They heard from faculty and alumni, upper-year J.D. students, LL.M. graduates, and senior administrators.
Sharpe—who had studied English and economics at Kenyon College before working as a paralegal in New York City—was not the only one impressed by his peers. Gillian Lester
, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, observed during her August 15 welcome address that the new crop of students represent “myriad of influences and experiences,” and encouraged them to learn from one another—and from faculty and staff.
Progress through Sharing
“You must not forget the personal values and motivations that brought you here, but it is your membership as part of this community that will allow you to use your individual knowledge for the collective good,” Dean Lester said.
The Dean referred to French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation, after visiting the U.S. in 1831, that the natural tendency of high-ranking lawyers is to be “supporters of order and enemies of change.” To succeed at Columbia Law School, Lester told the new students, they must prove Tocqueville wrong and use their legal training to spark progress.
“Like the hundreds of first-year classes and thousands of students before you, you’ve come to an institution with a history of graduates who have led societal change,” she said, noting that some of the world’s most influential government, business, and legal minds blossomed under Columbia Law School’s brilliant and dedicated faculty.
Invitation to Lead
Distinguished alumni spoke about professional leadership and the qualities that make the Columbia Law School community special, while other orientation programs introduced students to campus services and academic advisers.
Faculty members shared entertaining personal anecdotes about their own law school experiences during a Monday morning panel titled “What I Wish I Knew When I Went to Law School.” They encouraged students to be themselves, to plug into the Law School’s huge array of student organizations, and not to focus on grades to the detriment of fully appreciating the experience.
Professor Bert I. Huang
shared three words of advice—“save your self”—before leading students on a guided visualization of their life both one day and one year prior to law school. “We need you to bring your ‘self’ to class,” Huang said, explaining that individuality of backgrounds is integral to thought-provoking classroom dialogue and a fruitful learning experience.
Professor Kathryn Judge
also encouraged students to remain true to their values, while exploring ways to enjoy their time as law students. She suggested students join one or two student organizations that remind them of why they chose to attend law school in the first place, and to embrace the beauty and energy of New York City.
Laying a foundation for success can start with smaller, more immediate actions, said Ilene Strauss
, director of legal writing and moot court programs. Students can relieve first-week anxieties by asking questions Wednesday—the first day of classes—and getting to know their classmates, she suggested.
Students took Strauss’ advice to heart—albeit one day early and outdoors—as they converged on a sunlit Wien Courtyard for a food-truck lunch featuring Mexican food and assorted refreshments. The casual atmosphere helped break the ice on a hot day, and served as the backdrop for introductions and conversations.
| New York City's popular Wafels & Dinges food truck—one of many to roll onto campus—is a hit with students, who enjoyed a casual outdoor lunch together during Orientation 2016. |
But Wednesday was already on the mind of Natasha Harnwell-Davis ’19, who selected Columbia Law School for its Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.
She had picked up her course schedule on Monday morning, and with it discovered her first homework assignment—a reading for her Legal Methods course taught by Columbia University President Emeritus Michael I. Sovern
’55, the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law.
“I found the assignment within the first five minutes,” she said.
August 19, 2016