Each year, HLS students join our community from around the country, and the world. This year’s 1L class includes a contingent of students from West Virginia – J.R., Patrick, Arka, and Travis. They connected on Zoom before the semester started. We thought we’d pass along their insight and reflections here on our blog.
Tell us a little about your path to HLS.
J.R.: I was born and raised in the capital city, Charleston! I graduated from George Washington High School (Go Patriots!) in 2013, and from West Virginia State University in 2017 (Go Yellow Jackets!).
Patrick: I grew up in Charles Town, WV and went to Washington High School. I studied Accounting at WVU. After graduation, I moved to Alexandria, VA for a job doing federal consulting in D.C.. I’d always considered law school and after working for a while I decided it was time to go for it.
Arka: Upon graduating from high school in Charleston, WV where I consider home, I had the opportunity to attend Yale. While it was far from my hometown, I never lost sight of my West Virginia heritage – which I hope to continue carrying with me through law school and beyond.
Travis: I was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, but I was raised a few counties over in a town called Hurricane. I went to Hurricane High School, studied Civil Engineering at West Virginia University, took a service gap year with AmeriCorps, and now I’m here!
How has growing up in West Virginia prepared you for your time at HLS?
J.R.: Because of our state’s history, I feel resilience is a trait common to all of those who were raised here. It’s ingrained in our culture, and is something I credit with getting me to this point.
Patrick: I’ve felt a strong sense of community everywhere I’ve been in WV. I think that experience has made it easier to connect with classmates, especially in the virtual environment.
Arka: In the Mountain State, I met people who differed from me in a variety of ways, ranging all the way from fantasy league picks to political ideology. Considered the most southern-most northern state and most northern-most southern state, I have been most impressed with the variety in people’s ideas, belief systems and perspectives. The diversity of these interactions has cultivated in me a respect for other points of view not only for their independent merit, but also for the reason someone believes in it. This skill will be invaluable throughout law school, as we study cases that are almost always split, and find ways to reconcile opposing views.
Travis: I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from growing up in WV is that I always ask myself whether I’m doing right by my community. West Virginians are empathetic and charitable people, and I can’t imagine a life where I don’t carry on that legacy. This sense of collective spirit has, and always will, guide me when deciding what my next chapter in life is.
What is one thing everyone should know about West Virginia?
J.R.: The people here are unlike anywhere else in the world. In one evening, you can both meet a family for the first time AND be adopted into it. You’ll have a place to eat, to sleep, and people who will genuinely care about you and your well-being, all on the same day you exchanged names for the very first time, and I find that beautiful.
Patrick: Maybe not a direct answer but I think everybody should spend a college football game day weekend in Morgantown and see what they are missing (once we can all tailgate again).
Arka: This might be surprising to some, but West Virginia is home to many immigrant families (including mine)! I found my community in Charleston very accepting of my background, and always loved when people were curious and wanted to learn more. What’s most interesting is that for one of the most racially homogenous states in the nation, it welcomes and embraces diversity like no other.
Travis: Everyone from West Virginia says this, but WV has some of the best people in the world. Whether you’re in the capital city or lost out in the backwoods, there is somebody around willing to lend a helping hand. Oh, and Di Carlos pizza is the best in the country (sorry to all my new NYC friends)!
What is one thing you can find in WV that you can’t find anywhere else?
J.R.: Pepperoni rolls. Invented by the wives of Italian coal miners in north-central WV, they have become our beloved state food, and no trip to West Virginia is complete without having one.
Patrick: I’m still close friends with a ton of people I grew up with. I know this is possible from anywhere but I’m confident WV introduced me to the best friends you could ask for.
Travis: I think the obvious answer is pepperoni rolls – and that’s for a good reason – but the first thing that came to my mind was my English Setter dogs Buckeye and Murphy! They’re two of the best things in WV (that’s a high bar!) and I miss them dearly.
Tell us a little bit about how you’ve found HLS so far. What’s been challenging, surprising, or enjoyable?
J.R.: 1L has been an incredibly challenging experience for sure. But in addition to the love from everyone at home, my classmates and professors have been so amazing and supportive, both in and out of the classroom.
Patrick: I’ve been astounded at the quality of professors and guest speakers that come to our classes/events. Every professor is an expert in their field and every speaker has incredible first hand experience in different areas of the law. That being said, I knew law school would be hard but still wasn’t ready for the level of reading it would entail so be prepared for that.
Arka: I was pleasantly surprised by how supportive everyone is. The advice I received before law school always referenced the intense competition, but all I’ve seen so far is a nurturing community. I feel like relationships within my section in particular have grown stronger through the pandemic, constantly sharing notes, insights, and the occasional meme to facilitate everyone’s learning.
Travis: It’s been stressful for sure, but I’ve found some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met at this school. Their unyielding desire to advocate for just causes has been infectious and has kept my motor running throughout this virtual environment. Also, I was struck by how giving everyone is – this isn’t the Paper Chase anymore!
Why did you choose to come to HLS?
J.R.: My home is currently in the midst of a devastating opioid epidemic, an epidemic in which I have lost both close friends and dear family. I want to hold those accountable who not only have allowed such injustice to exist, but also those who actively create an environment in which it can thrive. HLS’s endless array of networks and opportunities can open any door to you in tackling the most complicated of issues.
Patrick: I chose HLS because I decided at the outset of the process I wanted to go to the best school I could get into. I wanted classes filled with extraordinary students, taught by the best professors and HLS afforded me that opportunity. I also came to law school with a specific goal of combatting public and institutional corruption after I graduate. HLS had the specialized faculty, clinics, and classes I felt would best prepare me for that work.
Arka: After the 2014 West Virginia Water Crisis left our town and 300,000 West Virginians without clean water for over a month, there were class-action lawsuits filed against those responsible for the chemical leak. Following this litigation was my first substantive experience of using the law to protect vulnerable communities and ensure accountability. My interests in the law as a tool for social change led me to HLS due to its strong tradition in public service. Also, Harvard’s breadth across multiple fields is reassuring for someone still figuring what field they want to explore and hopefully impact.
Travis: I wanted to go to law school because I felt that a law degree might enable me to make a larger impact on West Virginian lives than my Civil Engineering degree would. When looking at law schools, HLS was THE school that I wanted to go to. I love Boston, I like bigger schools, and the sheer amount of opportunities and people to learn from was just breathtaking. Before I got in, I did my AmeriCorps year in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and I used to take trips to the law school campus every few weeks hoping I’d get the chance to study here. I enrolled almost immediately after I was accepted and I’m glad to say I made the right choice!
What advice might you have for other applicants from the region?
J.R.: While I feel it is slowly changing, there is no doubt that we are underrepresented in many of these spaces. Harvard Law may seem foreign or out of reach, but let me make one thing clear: You belong here. Walk boldly, walk proudly.
Patrick: You will get lots of advice about crafting your story during the application process so I won’t speak to that. My number 1 piece of advice would be to do as well as you possibly can on the LSAT. How well you did doesn’t matter at all once you get accepted but it is one factor totally within your control that can give you a significant advantage over other applicants. Take every test practice you can get your hands on.
Arka: A lot of people lean away from talking about their experiences in West Virginia because they are not seen as “prestigious” enough. But your background can provide valuable insights to any group you’re a part of, or any classroom conversation you enter.
Travis: Places like Harvard were simply foreign concepts to me growing up, and honestly, they still are. Regardless, even though there are still some aspects of these kinds of institutions that I’m cynical about, there is absolutely room for Appalachian voices.