Those even mildly into astrological signs may know that we Cancerians are monstrously prone to nostalgia. I fall squarely into that category, as I can experience soggy remembrance over the sandwich I had for lunch yesterday. This month, I find myself particularly nostalgic over events of 30 years ago, when I moved from Hammond, Indiana to New York City to begin law school at New York University, located in the heart of Greenwich Village.
This was a pretty big deal for me. Although I had benefited greatly from a semester abroad in England during college at Valparaiso University, I was far from worldly and had never been to New York City before applying to NYU. Other than a brief exploratory trip the summer before classes started, I was moving to New York pretty much sight unseen. Within a few days of my arrival, I would start classes in Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, on the southwest corner of Washington Square:
I was both excited and anxious about my move. Though I was delighted to be attending NYU, a highly regarded law school with a strong commitment to supporting students who wanted to become public interest lawyers, I was thoroughly intimidated by my remarkably accomplished classmates. I had spent a year between college and law school living with my parents in Indiana, working as a stock clerk for an area drug store chain and writing articles for a weekly community newspaper. By comparison, when I heard about the fancy internships, fellowships, and jobs that many of my classmates had held, I wondered if I was in way over my head. My apprehensions were stoked by the words of an attorney friend of my parents back in Indiana, who told them that I would be “eaten alive” by the presumably cutthroat, hyper-competitive students at NYU.
Fortunately, he was dead wrong. Accomplished though they were, my happiest surprise was how many friendly, engaging, and (yes) smart people I met at NYU. In fact, I made many friends in law school and hung out with a mutually supportive group who enjoyed each other’s company and knew the importance of a study break (or two or three). Much of that initial bonding occurred over meals in Hayden Hall, the main law school residence hall for first-year students, with a marvelous location on Washington Square:
I began law school with hopes of practicing as a public interest attorney and eventually pursuing a career in politics. I did not anticipate that I would return to academia as a full-time professor. Furthermore, I had very little interest in the workplace issues that have so profoundly shaped my focus and worldview. However, even though my career path diverted somewhat from my original plans, I am grateful for opportunities and support I received at NYU that have helped to open doors to where I am today.
I plan to write more extensively about my experiences in higher education someday, but suffice it to say that NYU was the right place for me. Like most law schools, the standard classroom instruction was overly centered on the study of appellate court decisions. But NYU was and remains a leader in clinical and lawyering skills instruction, and in my judgment its support for public interest legal endeavors has long been second to none.
In addition, while NYU didn’t free us from all the stresses and anxieties of the law school experience, it was, on balance, a pretty neat place to be. In addition to offering a rich array of student activities, it gave us the Village and New York City as our campus. New York of the early-to-mid 80s was a grittier and in some ways more interesting town than its current, shinier, and more expensive incarnation. If you could avoid getting mugged, the cheap diners and Chinese take-out places serving hearty fare, revival movie houses showing double-features of classic films, tickets to Tony Award winning plays for $20, and $4 “nosebleed” seats in Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks all made Manhattan a surprisingly student-friendly kinda place.
Note: Thanks to Wikipedia for the “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” poster. (It’s a great movie, by the way.) Photos are not contemporary; I took them during a December 2010 visit to NYC.