On Board the Orientation Express
In the week between resigning from the Department of Defense and moving into the dorms at NYU Law, I found myself confronting an unexpected anxiety: orientation. As I prepared to start law school, I had always assumed that I’d end up most stressed about something more normal, like loans, packing, or the Socratic method. Instead, it was thoughts of section mixers and mock classes that were keeping me up at night.
I could think of only two reasons for my odd prioritization of this fear above all the other concerns I could have had about returning to school shortly after my 29th birthday. The first was perspective. I was fortunate enough to have gone through a trial run the previous year, when my wife left her job as a speechwriter to start her own 1L year at NYU. Bussing up and down I-95 from D.C. every weekend, come rain, snow, or Super Bowl Sunday, I had the chance to see firsthand what the reality of 1L year was like. As such, I had advance notice not just of the avalanche of work to come, but also how rewarding plowing through all that reading would be. This made it easier to put most of the expected stressors in proportion, and freak out just a bit less.
To understand the second reason for my anxiety, you need to know a little bit more about my past. Before starting work at the DoD, I got my master’s degree at a school the department runs, one where most of the student body is mid-career, active duty military. I have only two distinct memories from that orientation: me in my rumpled undergrad suit walking into an auditorium filled to the brim with American soldiers in full dress uniform, and me walking out 10 seconds later, overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of the sight.
Preparing for orientation here, I kept reliving that first part of my past experience. I remembered feeling like I was out of place, too young and green to fit in. And, as August 22 loomed, that feeling returned. I pictured myself again walking into a room full of people with incredible resumes and staggering drive, even if they wore fewer medals, though this time I would be separated out for being too old, and too slow to choose my path.
But fortunately, when I arrived, my fears proved misplaced. My new classmates ranged from 22-year-olds just out of college to 37-year-old Ph.D.s looking for new challenges. They were as impressive as I had expected, but they were also welcoming. Some, I learned, had even shared similar fears, with one 25-year-old saying he’d worried he’d be the oldest one in our class.
The program itself proved helpful as well, easing us into the academic year and providing a real sense that we were part of a community that we could rely on for support (and some excellent free food). I don’t recall much of my last orientation, but parts of this one will stick with me, particularly a comment Dean Revesz made during a question-and-answer session, one that has now come to sum up what I’ll call hopeful optimism toward my start at NYU Law: “Better too early than too late.”