With the turn of the calendar to January, we often wish one another a happy new year. But it has been hard to do so in the past week. As we all reflect on the first days of 2021, I wanted to share a message from our student body co-presidents to the HLS community. I found Noelle and Billy’s words meaningful, and I hope you do too. – Dean Jobson
The first week of winter term is in the books, and we would like to welcome everyone back from what we hope was a refreshing and restful break. While any semester at our school is bound to be arduous, this past semester may have been one of the most trying that our community has faced. It was, to be sure, a lonely and grueling period for most of us. It was one that few will look back on with much fondness. And yet, it was also one in which our community demonstrated a great deal of strength. The simple act of tuning in to class and completing the work may feel small, but it took tremendous strength to stick it out each and every day. To those who persisted through these tough times, we would like to express our admiration. To those who did so in the face of family responsibilities or personal tragedy, we would like to express our awe. And while it may seem that our community, scattered across the world and unable to support each other in person, has been rendered more frail by the events of the past year, we hope that the shared experience of persisting through this trying period may be something that in the end unites us.
For rarely has it been more important to come together than at a time like this.
The loss of one of our own has left our community reeling. Tommy Raskin was the kind of person who exemplified all the best components of our community and everything that one could aspire to be. He was kind, passionate, and a constant source of joy for those who were lucky enough to know him. His presence at HLS made it a brighter, warmer place, and his loss is excruciatingly hard to bear. Though we may not be able to grieve together in person, we can still be there for each other. Consider doing one small act of compassion in Tommy’s honor. Check up on your friends. Do not hesitate to seek support if you are struggling. Be a source of warmth for your peers wherever possible in these dark times – just as Tommy was for those who knew him.
And just as we struggled to come to terms with this painful event, we have also had to bear witness to a heinous assault on our republic and our system of laws. If there is one thing that binds us all together at HLS, it is this: a belief that the law, however intangible and abstract a notion it might be, can have a real effect in our world. It can be used to moderate humanity’s worst impulses. And those in power cannot simply sweep it aside the moment it ceases to serve their interests.
Wednesday’s events struck at the core of what binds us together as a community. It was horrifying to witness, and more horrifying to have to face the reality that graduates of our institution are in some measure responsible for what happened. And we are left wondering whether the work that we are doing can really be called important if the world that we inhabit is so patently lawless. Whether an institution, whose graduates acted with such reckless disregard for the rule of law in enabling this attack, is actually special after all. Whether the profession we seek to enter is indeed worthwhile.
But as gut wrenching as this week was, we must not give up. Let us remind ourselves to not take the rule of law for granted. Let us face the sobering reality that whatever is good and just about our system only exists because human beings individually choose to abide by and defend it. Let us accept the fact that HLS does not make you a force for good, it just makes you a force – and it is up to you and you alone to choose to use this privileged position of power for good. In short, let us move on from this week more committed than ever to the notion that what we learn at HLS, and how we each individually choose to use it, are of the utmost importance.
We are a tough community. We have gotten through difficult times before. And though things may seem especially bleak right now, we assure you that together we possess the capacity to get through this moment as well. We will keep moving forward, but we must remember to be there for each other every step of the way.
We want to wish everyone the best of luck as we continue through winter term and to those participating in EIP and the Public Interest Networking Reception.
Noelle and Billy