Graduation: Reflecting Back on What I Learned in My Four-Year JD/MBA
It’s true. I finally graduated. After four of the most grueling years of my life, the time finally arrived for me to walk across that stage and receive my diplomas – one for law school, and one for my MBA. Not just one ceremony, but two.
My brother asked me if this graduation was any different than my college graduation. YES! Looking back on it, I don’t think I really had to work that hard for my bachelor’s degree. I mean, I was definitely dedicated and did well in my classes, but it was just kind of an extension of high school academically, and a whole lot more fun socially. But grad school was different. Grad school was serious work. Grad school took everything I had, mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically. There were literally times when I didn’t know if I would make it (see this post about my experience dealing with burnout). As they say, you appreciate better the things you work harder for. I felt this as I stood in line at the MBA ceremony (which was first), waiting for the processional to begin, and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and gratitude came over me. In that moment, I truly understood the magnitude of what I had accomplished, and it was powerful. That’s what made this graduation different.
As the processional began, we walked through Georgetown’s campus among crowds of people waiting to cheer on sons, daughters, spouses, and loved ones who were graduating. As we came around the corner of the crowd, I saw my dad standing there with a huge proud grin on his face, an image which conveyed all the love and support from my family over the years, and I immediately started to cry. Then I saw my brother off to the right, calling my name and waving, camera in hand. Then I saw the rest of my family, and the tears of years of struggle spilled down in drops of relief and appreciation for having come this far.
I’m pretty sure I was the only person crying through the processional. Add that to the fact that I didn’t know most of the students there (everyone I started school with graduated a year before me), and I probably looked really weird, but hey, who cares, right?
Both taught me self-discipline
Over the past several weeks I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my grad school experience. In some ways it was just like any other MBA or law student’s, but in some ways it was very different. I guess that’s what happens when you straddle two worlds – it’s hard to fully engage in both.
Whenever I told people what I was studying, they always asked me one of two questions:
1) Which program did you like better?
2) Would you do it all over again?
In response to the first question, it’s impossible to choose. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. I like to say that the MBA program is like a team sport and law school is like an individual sport. As a result, one of the challenges of a program like the JD/MBA is moving back and forth between the two. It’s like speaking different languages. But what I did love was the way they interconnected and built different skill sets. In addition to the general academics, MBA school taught me how to work in multi-cultural teams and how to balance your own work with your team’s work. Law school taught me how to see both sides of an argument and how to cut through the fluff to find the relevant issue. Both taught me self-discipline.
In response to the second question, yes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat (but thankfully I won’t have to). Even though it was hard, it was worth it, and will be worth it for the rest of my life.
If I were to do it over again, however, here are some things I wish I’d known before starting:
- I have limits. This should be obvious, but to high-achieving humans, sometimes this must be learned the hard way.
- Contrary to popular opinion, year 1 (my first year of law school) was actually the easiest and least stressful year, even though I was terrified of my professors and thoroughly intimidated by the intelligence of my classmates. I do think this is unique to joint degree programs. Each year gets more complex as you change and blend programs, and you feel like you’re constantly starting over, never in one place long enough to get the hang of things.
- Get a good stress management plan in place BEFORE starting school, cause it’ll be too late once you’re in the thick of things.
- Everyone graduates before you, so if you’re not too burned out in year 4, you might actually get a little lonely, and you’ll feel that loneliness the most at graduation when the majority of your friends aren’t there to celebrate with you. But that’s the tradeoff you make for getting two degrees. Just be prepared to make new friends with the students in the year behind you.
- If you go to school out of state, be prepared for a cultural education as well as an academic one. This will be true no matter where you go. It’s wonderful and amazing to learn how to live among different people in a different part of the country/world, but it can also be an additional layer of stress if you’re not ready for it, particularly if you go to a very liberal school but come with very conservative opinions...
- Find good mentors. People who have walked this path before you will be an essential part of your success. Find those people and hold on to them for dear life
I have been forever changed by my experience here
In spite of the difficulties, however, there have also been some truly incredible moments, and it’s important to acknowledge just how amazing this journey has been.
Reflecting back on my journey, here are some of the moments and experiences that will stay with me forever:
- Working as a law clerk for the Senate Finance Committee and getting steeped in the political world of the federal government
- Hearing 3 Supreme Court Justices speak (Scalia, Alito, Kagan)
- Attending oral arguments at SCOTUS and being there to hear the decision of the Obergefell (same-sex marriage) case
- Learning what SCOTUS stood for (Supreme Court of the United States), and learning the names of all 9 Supreme Court Justices (it’s true – I did not know this before I started law school)
- Attending a Presidential inauguration, even if it was for Donald Trump
- Meeting Vice President Joe Biden (he said hi to me – I count that)
- Attending lectures by two former Speakers of the House (Newt Gingrich and John Boehner) and a former Presidential candidate (Mitt Romney, #bringbackmitt)
- Learning a new way to think and debating serious policy issues in a classroom with some of the brightest people I’ve ever encountered
- Participating in clubs and organizations that improved leadership and business skills and got me heavily involved in the startup world in D.C.
- Taking classes with titles like "Law of Robots", "Analytical Problem Solving", "Data Mining", "Law of Religion", "Business and Policy in a Global Economy", "Bioethics and the Law", and "National Security and the Law of the Sea".
- Learning how to function properly in a networking happy hour (it’s a serious skill, especially for a non-drinker)
- Learning how to use public transportation like a local (stand right, walk left, don’t stand in front of the doors, figure out exactly where to stand on the platform, avoid the green line except for Nats baseball games, etc.)
- Silently loathing the tourists who don’t know how to use public transportation like the locals
- Nats baseball games
- Attending theater productions both in DC and on Broadway
- Learning to enjoy running as a method of stress relief as well as a form of exercise. Also, running my first 5K and my first 12K
- Becoming obsessed with plants (although I still can’t keep basil alive)
- Working as an ordinance worker in the LDS Washington, D.C. temple
- Exploring the East Coast
- Exploring the amazing food scene in DC and learning to try new foods (like bone marrow, when that was a thing)
- Waking up way too early to go see the cherry blossoms
- Exploring farmer’s markets, DC festivals and events, Restaurant Week, and the local music venues
- Traveling internationally (Spain, Greece, Dominican Republic, St. Thomas Virgin Islands, Ireland, Mexico, Scandinavia)
- Spending my 30th birthday in New York
- Spending a summer in Boston
- Attending weddings of close friends and family from Annapolis to DC to Salt Lake to Seattle
- Participating in the Mormon phenomenon that is Duck Beach
- Watching 4th of July fireworks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
- Watching fireworks for Alexandria’s birthday while listening to the 1812 overture, complete with canon fire, over the Potomac River
- Camping in the Shenandoah
- Visiting the residences of some of this country’s founding fathers (George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, etc.)
- Developing a complete obsession with podcasts [LINK TO PODCAST PAGE]
- Gaining a real appreciation for and love of American history
- Making friends from all over the country and the world
- Spending 4 years of my life learning something completely new
There are so many other things I could add to this list if I had the time or the page space. When I started this journey four years ago, I came with the intent to “change my stars” (borrowing the line from A Knight’s Tale) and give myself the skill set and the education that would enable me to do great things in the world. Was it hard? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Yes. Who knows what the future will bring, but it’s clear that I have been forever changed by my experience here, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Only one more thing remains – the bar exam. Then it will be time to close this chapter of my life and move on to the next one – Boston.