A little over a year ago, I got a call around 11am from a number I didn’t fully recognize. The area code, however, was not unfamiliar; by now, I knew that 617 meant Massachusetts. Like many other admits might tell you, it was a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Not only had I gotten into law school, but Harvard of all places. I committed less than two hours later.
Being accepted to law school during the onset of a pandemic we were just beginning to understand, however, is much different from starting law school in the middle of it. By the time August rolled around, a lot had changed—and things continue to change. As I write this now, sitting at my desk in the middle of March, news is unfolding around a vicious hate crime committed against Asian-Americans. COVID-19 has ravaged the world and touched everyone’s lives in one way or another. Countless lives have been lost at the hands of police violence. Only two months ago, there was an assault on our democracy. Law school seems like a drop in a bucket to be dumped in a larger, more important ocean.
Being a student at Harvard Law School during this monumental time in American history has reminded me of the immense privilege I have to be where I am, something that would be foolish not to acknowledge. It has also continued to fuel my desire to eradicate the injustices our country has been founded on. This larger-than-life goal is why I applied to law school in the first place, and the education and opportunities at Harvard offer an incredible toolkit. Whether through classes taught by trailblazers (like my Effects of Mass Incarceration class taught by Professor Dehlia Umunna), or organizations that allow students to participate in real legal proceedings (such as the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, which represents individuals incarcerated in Massachusetts), every experience I’ve had has given me a new approach to tackle a problem I deeply care about. Harvard’s programs are unparalleled in their breadth and depth, with over 30 clinics and dozens of reading groups on nuanced issues ranging from capital punishment to refugee advocacy. The faculty is at the cutting edge of their respective fields, and all the professors I’ve had thus far have been extremely approachable. For all this, I feel extremely lucky.
The community I have found at Harvard empowers me in a similar way, even though my class has done our 1L year online. I was scared at first that it would be hard to connect with people when geographic borders and time zones separated us. After all, we wouldn’t have events like section trips or bar review to bond over. My classmates, however, took this setback in stride. In between my acceptance last March and September when the semester began, there were countless game nights and Zoom hangouts that helped me get to know my peers. Student organizations put me into contact with people with whom I shared similar legal interests, from human rights to criminal justice reform. Affinity groups were also pivotal for me in building a support system: someone I met through SALSA, the South Asian Law Students Association, is one of my closest friends today. Further, because Harvard has one of the larger incoming classes, I was able to interact with students from all corners of the globe, who brought with them a diversity of perspectives and life stories.
When the academic year began, even the section dynamic was able to translate decently well to the online environment. Gatherings like coffee chats, a holiday party, and an international cooking night brought my section closer together. The section committee sent out silly newsletters and did a cold call word-of-the-week to keep people engaged. If any of our classmates were going through a rough time, we showed up for them as best as we could virtually. I am thankful to have “met” every single one of them.
Despite the challenges of Zoom school (and 1L in particular), it is these bright patches that make me grateful to be here. I have learned a lot in a semester and a half about what the law is and what the law should be. It is not lost on me that when you wield a Harvard Law degree, you have the power to do great good or great harm. I hope that you do the former—Harvard will prepare you for it well.
Maisha Kamal is a current 1L from the New York City area. She graduated from Macaulay Honors College in 2019, having majored in Business Economics and minored in English. Before law school, she worked at Everytown for Gun Safety in New York City as a research fellow. At Harvard, she is involved with the Harvard Immigration Project, the Harvard Law and Policy Review, Student Government, and the South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA).