At Thanksgiving, grateful for a supportive law school community

Jake McMillian

For most Americans, the end of November is defined by cathartic thankfulness, warm feelings of holiday anticipation, and pumpkin-flavored everything coming from nearly every direction. The traditional “Three F’s” — Friends, Family, and Football — are evident all around, affording even the most dysfunctional relatives a seasonal respite of congeniality. For folks from my native Kansas City, no Thanksgiving would be complete without participating in one of the city’s oldest traditions: watching the lighting ceremony at the Country Club Plaza, ushering in the holiday season with tens of thousands of our KC neighbors.

For law students, however, the end of November is defined by significantly less cuddly feelings. Instead of thankfulness and holiday anticipation, we tend to feel crabbiness and exam anxiety, and many of our relatives will be less inclined than ever to sit with us at dinner. The end of November elicits an entirely different series of F’s: Fatigue, Forgetfulness, and Finals (among other F-words, I’m sure). And the only lighting ceremony this Kansas City boy is likely to see will happen in my parent’s basement as I shuffle from one study space to another.

(Although I must admit that my November has seen its fair share of pumpkin-flavored deliciousness; nonfat, no-whip pumpkin spice latte is my lifeblood.)

To be sure (and as is evident from the above), law students have a flair for hyperbole (or as my non-law friends like to describe me: over-dramatic). We are convinced that ours is the most difficult graduate program available, and we like to remind ourselves and others of how much work we still have to do. Indeed, if there is a road less traveled, it is the one that we have chosen, and we are surely hoeing it down with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

In many respects, these attitudes are valid: law school certainly ranks among the hardest things that any of us will do in our lives. But amidst all the stress and time crunch and lack of sleep that accompanies the Finals Countdown, it is easy to forget what this season is really about: gratitude for the good things that exist in your life.

Last week, I posted a status on Facebook asking my classmates to write about “Things to be thankful for at KU Law.” The response was overwhelming: nearly 30 replies within the first half-hour (and I’m not even very popular). The wide response prompted me to open the question to faculty and staff. I figured I might get a reply from one or two of the professors whose offices are near my study desk; surely they would feel guilty having to pass by me so often and would eventually email me back. Again I was surprised: nearly every faculty and staff member I emailed sent me a message. Beyond being shocked at the breadth of the responses, I was moved and encouraged by the substance of the answers I received.

In particular, students were thankful for our “approachable, yet brilliant, professors” who “actually care about how you’re doing outside of the classroom,” who “go to bat for me when I least expect it,” and who “not only give career advice, but who have reassured me many a time that it’s OK — just breathe.” But on top of our professors’ teaching and mentorship capabilities, students were also consistently thankful for “Professor Westerbeke’s apple fritters,” “Professor Rosenberg’s Twitter,” “lunch time with Professor Ware,” “Professor Yuille’s Muncher’s Bakery surprises,” “the ongoing (and endlessly entertaining) Prater/Hecker feud,” and “Leah Terranova: enough said.”

But the onslaught of love toward faculty and staff certainly wasn’t one-sided. Indeed, faculty and staff were thankful for “great students” “who readily participate in class,” for “the opportunity to spend time with future leaders,” for “amazing Lawyering TAs,” and “for thankful students who take time to be thankful” — clearly, students have much to be thankful for. One professor summed up his colleagues nicely, saying, “I’m most thankful for the KU Law students. You all make this the best job in the world. I get up every morning and look forward to going to work. Not very many people can say that. And I don’t care if this sounds cheesy, I mean it.”

I suppose most law students are thankful for their faculty and vice versa. Without law professors, no students could learn Property or Secured Transactions or Civil Procedure. Without law students, professors and administrators wouldn’t have anyone to distribute their knowledge and skills to. And I also suppose that most law students are thankful for the opportunity to chase their dreams and become lawyers  especially at a premier law school like KU. Such thankfulness was immediately apparent in the responses I received.

But also apparent, and ultimately much more important, was that KU Law — despite being a training ground for a crop of driven, Type A students in an academic field that drips with pressure and anxiety — has created a community that we are all proud of and truly consider our home. Whether it’s “fourth-floor chit-chatters, students and professors alike,” “great colleagues like everyone — which makes KU Law an especially wonderful place to teach,” or “friends who see you struggling and bring you and your kids dinner twice in one week,” the community at KU Law is special and demonstrates the difference between a good law school and an extraordinary law school. It is something we can all be thankful for.

And because my colleagues in Green Hall are endlessly more eloquent and wise than I can ever hope to be, I can only add that I am thankful for the Holy Trinity that holds me together and gives me hope for the future: Bill Self, Andrew Wiggins, and Dean Mazza. My KU Law experience would not be the same without these men.

Happy holidays. RCJH.

Jake McMillian, 2L, is a KU Law Student Ambassador from Kansas City, Kan.