Very rarely do I find myself in a position where I am speechless. It just doesn’t happen! I am generally capable of expressing myself easily, so you can imagine how I felt when I found myself speechless. Let me back up and explain.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at the NJLEEP Summer Law Institute. The New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project (NJLEEP) is a not-for-profit organization that provides minority students with the skills necessary to obtain academic success in college and in law school. NJLEEP has implemented various programs to foster this goal, including the Summer Law Institute (SLI). The SLI is a five-week criminal law program for students entering the ninth grade. These students are all residents of Newark and the surrounding areas. As part of the curriculum, SLI invites members of the legal community to come and speak with students about their career paths and current professions, and answer various questions posed by the students.
As I traveled to Seton Hall University School of Law, where the SLI Program is held, I was excited to interact with the students, but I was not prepared for the feeling that overcame me afterwards. I spent the first 10 minutes of my allotted hour introducing myself to the students, and giving a brief synopsis of my resume. I spent the next 30 minutes cautioning the students about their use of social media tools, and the pitfalls of not securing their accounts from the general public (it sounds heavy, but it really wasn’t!). The students were engaged, and they asked a myriad of questions regarding this subject matter. But this was not the impressive part.
After I concluded my presentation, I opened the floor for the students to ask me whatever questions they wanted….and they did! They asked me about the colleges I applied to when I was in high school; what classes I took in high school to prepare for college; what made me choose political science as a major; should they be taking AP courses; did I get loans to finance my education; did I work while I was in college; what would I be doing if I did not become a lawyer. I was not only impressed by the quantity of the questions, but I was blown away by the quality of the questions. Remember, these kids are entering the ninth grade, and they were so focused on what they consider the obvious next step….college! It made my heart smile to see that these students made a choice to take their education seriously at such a young age. I don’t think I was that focused at that age….in fact, I know I wasn’t! I also know that these students did more for me yesterday than I did for them. They made me hopeful for our future. They also reminded me of the old saying “to whom much is given, much is required.” Can we talk about that for a second?
As professionals, we are fortunate to have obtained positions in our respective fields after years of schooling, interning, test taking and “paying dues.” The truth is that all of this means nothing if we don’t give back to those who are trying to do the same thing. Remember, giving back does not always mean donating money…donating your time is just as good, and sometimes better. It felt good to look out at a sea of faces that looked like mine, and give them a little bit of information to consider as they begin preparing for their eventual career. I feel like I made a difference, and all it took was 1 hour. I even received a letter from one of the students asking if I would mentor her…what an awesome feeling!
I say all of this to encourage you all to take a second to appreciate your success, and then take some more time to give back to those who are making their way up the ladder. You have no idea how valuable it is to share your experiences with those hoping to follow in your footsteps. The reception you get from sharing your experiences may leave you feeling like I did when I left these students….speechless!
I congratulate NJLEEP for its commitment to the Newark community. I applaud the staff of college and law students and legal professionals for their dedication to these students and their education. I was honored and humbled to be a part of such a dynamic program dedicated to nurturing dynamic students.
If you are interested in learning more about and/or donating to NJLEEP, please visit their website at: http://www.njleep.org/.