I remember going to see my college advisor and soon-to-be friend, Mr. Readus, the same day I decided I was going to go to law school. For better or worse I’ve been wired with a “DO NOW” personality, and when an idea is planted in me I run with it, whether I’ve thought things out or not. This was no different; I knew pretty much nothing about the journey I was about to throw myself into.
It didn’t matter to me. My whole life up until that point centered on being a softball player, and at Alabama State I fell comfortably into my identity as a student-athlete. I knew it would eventually end, but my whole world was rocked when my softball career ended before the start of my senior season. I was hungry to pour myself into what was next for my life, and I decided that day it was going to be law school.
That day Mr. Readus didn’t ask me why; I think he knew I was just ready to enter my next chapter. He became my new coach and we began strategizing all the moves that had to be made. I didn’t realize that for most lawyers this dream was engrained in them long before their senior year of college, and most of them actually knew what they were doing long before that. But that didn’t matter to Damien.
First, I learned about the LSAT. When I didn’t do as well as I wanted I thought about letting this goal go and thinking about something else, but Damien encouraged me to apply to schools anyway.
When we got to the application process I hesitated as I tried to guess who would take me. Damien told me at least once a day to apply to Syracuse University, and each time I told him I knew I wouldn’t get in. Looking back, the moment that changed everything for me was the day he told me he believed in me so much he would pay for my application to Syracuse himself, he just wanted me to apply. So I did.
But this is real life, and my LSAT score was low, so after a long wait I didn’t end up getting into Syracuse or a number of the other schools I applied to. In the end I only got into two schools. When I thought about sitting the year out, Damien encouraged me to pick one and go anyway. I think we both knew it was then or never for me.
But looking back now it wasn’t really about Syracuse. It was about Damien believing in me at a time when I questioned a lot about myself. And it’s a little late, but I only now realize that helped shape the person I’ve become.
Damien eventually asked me why I wanted to go to law school, and he helped me pick Thomas Jefferson School of Law and I came home to California. The next chapter of my life was always meant to be San Diego, but that’s a story for another day.
I checked in with him over the years and as I shared all of the accomplishments I never believed I could obtain, I thought about all the days I spent in his office figuring out where I wanted my life to go. I try not to relish in my past for too long, but I’ve been able to do some amazing things. I made law review after my first year, I represented my school in the biggest international law moot court competition in the world, I published an article in a scholarly law journal, I graduated cum laude… I did all these things after learning to believe in myself, the way he and so many others always believed in me.
When I heard Damien passed away last week, initially I felt guilty because I don’t know if I ever expressed to him how much he shaped who I am today. I think it’s amazing to see God gifted in the people who have touched our lives, and through the lessons He helps teach us through them… Even when those people are called home too soon. I regret the words of gratitude I never shared with Damien. But the beautiful thing about God is as I was beating myself up over all the things I never got around to saying, he reminded me of Syracuse.
I’m ashamed that it took a shocking loss to remember and appreciate such a simple but powerful gesture in my life. I don’t know if he even realized it, but by applying to Syracuse Damien taught me to invest in myself, and in other people.
That small leap of faith lead to much larger leaps I’ve taken in the years that followed. And through knowing Damien I’ve learned that it isn’t always about getting in… Sometimes it’s just about being willing to apply.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Psalm 118:1 (NIV)