Reflection: On Getting out of the Shadow

Danny Moss
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

One of the reasons I applied to UCI was the incredible inaugural class. I’ll never forget reading their student profiles on the school website. I remember thinking, “These people have accomplished more prior to going to law school than I ever hoped to accomplish after law school.” It was only natural to want to be a part of the incredible tradition they were building.

During 1L year, something happened that triggered a change in how I felt about my relationship to the Inaugurals. A certain administrator at the school gave a talk to the entire class of 2013. Now, it’s important to stop here and recognize that I don’t have a problem with this person now. In fact, if they read this, I want them to know that I love them dearly, and that I am incredibly grateful for the kindness and support they’ve shown me.

Now that that’s out of the way… This person gave a talk in which they bemoaned how competitive, negative, and generally not very nice to each other my class was. We were essentially described as being “gunners” with all the negative connotations the word carries. This person – and really, I genuinely am a big fan of this person now – made it clear to us that we were just not nice like the Inaugurals were.

I think it was at that moment that my perception of my relationship to the Inaugurals changed. I continued to love them and respect them as the wonderful individuals that they were (and still are!), but I lost my connection to them as a class. I stopped feeling like I was simply there to join the party, to contribute to a growing tradition, to be an equal among the Inaugurals. I started to feel the weight of everything they’d already accomplished, of everything they had yet to do. I felt weak and insignificant. I felt like the class of 2013 just didn’t measure up. I felt like a disappointment.

Law school has been hard for me. Like most people, I have my share of personal insecurities. Like most law students, I made my share of mistakes. So the feeling of not measuring up to the trailblazing Inaugurals persisted. Last year, I surprised myself by managing to snag a summer job at the ACLU. Of course, when I started working there, I heard all about the incredible job the Inaugurals had done there the year before. I was resentful. It was a resentment, of course, that was born out of my own insecurity. What really galled me was that I knew the incredible work the inaugurals had done was part of the reason I had the job. I felt like I’d never get out of their shadow.

That was just a few months ago. Somewhere between then and now, my outlook changed. I don’t know what did it. I didn’t suddenly become a better student. I didn’t get a fellowship or a job. Nothing big really happened externally to validate my worth as a law student. But somehow, I’ve developed a confidence and a sense of self-worth that I didn’t have over the summer.

I’m not sure what accounts for the change. Perhaps it’s the fact that I finally ventured outside of my safety zone at Coastkeeper (my usual pro bono haunt, for those of you who don’t know) to work at the ACLU, and they liked my work. Maybe it’s the ego boost that naturally accompanies being asked for advice by 1Ls and 2Ls – people I respect, and whose respect certainly buoys my occasionally flagging self-esteem. Maybe it’s the weird feeling I got recently that somehow, I just know I will find a way to forge a career in my chosen field.

Whatever the cause of my newfound confidence, it spurred another realization – one that everyone reading this reflection realized a few paragraphs ago. That whole hang up about how I compared to the Inaugurals – it was never about them. It was never about my class not measuring up to theirs. And it was never about the wonderful administrator who gave one single lecture that rubbed me the wrong way. Rather, it was about me not really believing I was good enough, because law school makes people feel like that sometimes.

I realize now – and believe me, I feel quite sheepish about this – that I was never under the Inaugurals’ shadow. If I was ever under a shadow, it was the shadow of my own insecurities. Now it feels more like I’m basking in the glow reflected from their incredible achievements. And maybe, just a little bit, in the light from my own bright future. I’m proud of the work I’ve done. I’m proud to be associated with my classmates. And I’m proud to be following in the Inaugurals’ footsteps.

So anyways, I’m a law student, which means there needs to be some clear-cut takeaway from my case study. Here it is: I love UCI, but even at a place with such a fantastic peer support system, it’s easy to let the law school experience make you feel insecure. So for any of you 1Ls and 2Ls who maybe feel just a teensy bit like you’re struggling to fill some big shoes, STOP IT! Don’t wait as long as long as I did to figure out that you really, truly belong here. Dean Austin is really good at her job, and you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t capable of making this school a better place. You folks are already accomplishing great things, and you don’t have anything to prove. I love you all, and I’m really, really glad to be leaving the school in your hands.