Beginning law school was a shock to my system. I cried every day my first two weeks and many times after that. (My current students should be interested in hearing.) The reading was intense; the pressure in class extreme; but the hardest part was trying to fit in. Duke Law became my finishing school.
Having grown up poor in a small Southern town, I felt like a fish out of water. Most of my classmates were from families of means. Many had undergraduate degrees from Ivey League schools. They had studied, or at least traveled, abroad – something I had never even dared to dream of doing. They read the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal. Really, they did.
I had a steep learning curve, but having a sense of mission gives you focus. I knew that if I were going to accomplish my goal to help “the arc of the moral universe” bend toward justice, I needed to know how to play the law game.
There were so many firsts. I attended cocktail parties and had lunches with governors. I flew to New York for a job interview, rode in a taxi and tasted sushi. I argued cases in mock trials and worked on group policy projects. I shook hands with US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and stood with Senator Joe Biden in his Washington office as he talked about getting through the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident. I helped create a student public interest organization. I even made my first run for public office, a position on a faculty student committee that dealt with career services. I won. And I read the NY Times and listened to NPR.
For my first summer, I was fortunate to clerk for N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Charles Becton. For my second summer, I interned at Ferguson and Stein, a civil rights law firm in Chapel Hill. During my third year, I took a very part-time internship with the North Carolina Resource Center, an organization that defended inmates on death row in post-conviction proceedings. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was building a network of friends in the right places.
I added a second life theme song: Faith by George Michael