1Ls Need Not Fear Extracurricular Activities

A message from a newly minted 1L, Maria A. Parra-Orlandoni:

As a slightly older 1L at HLS, I bring a perspective that is slightly different than the average HLS student. I finished college in 2005 at USNA, followed by graduate studies at MIT, service in the operational Navy for four years, and instruction of Physics at Rutgers University. Now I am “back to school” for the third time since grade school, and this time I bring years of retrospect and “real-world” experience.

I have heard many of my fellow 1Ls expressing reluctance or even refusal to get involved in any extracurricular activities due to fear that they will not be able to balance these activities with their academics. Having been out of school for so long, I view extracurriculars differently than I did years ago. As a college and masters student, I considered extracurriculars predominately as resume builders. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the activities in which I became involved, but they became another item on my “to do” list. I think that many of my classmates are viewing extracurriculars in that manner—yet another thing “to do”—thus associating extracurriculars with panic and feeling overwhelmed.

I do not see things that way anymore, and ever doing so was a mistake. During my graduate studies and professional experiences, I observed a multi-level view of what bosses value in their subordinates and what employees value in a leader. And that has reshaped my perception of the value of extracurriculars. They are no longer a superficial way to expand my experiences and resume. Instead, they are opportunities to develop peer leadership; to consider law within the context of the real world; to meet people that inspire deep and creative thinking; and to “learn by doing” in an organic and social manner. These skills are what employers and subordinates care about and respect. True, grades are important, but what makes an interesting candidate for a job and what truly grabs someone’s attention are the manifestations of someone’s passion, which do not shine through on report cards. Passion, however, does shine through in collaborative projects, published papers, participation in organizations, etc.

Harvard’s richness lies within the unmatched opportunities to get involved in all the aforementioned types of activities. The incredible extracurriculars are what make our law school so legendary. We have brilliant students and faculty, and to avoid diving into organizations that facilitate collaboration and inspire personal and professional growth is a waste. I would like to send a message of encouragement to the 1Ls who feel reluctant to commit their time outside of class and also a message of affirmation that we 1Ls cannot and should not be afraid to step outside our comfort zones. Get involved in a least one activity! Academics are extremely unlikely to suffer and will probably even improve with the perspectives gained from extracurricular involvement. As with most things in life, the best way to learn is by DOING.

During my (very) short time here, I have already been presented with numerous random and awesome opportunities, and they have arisen very directly from two factors: 1) willingness to get involved in activities outside the classroom, and, more notably, 2) upper class women who have reached out to me in some way. The instinctual sense of community that women tend to possess is so valuable and can be especially helpful for 1Ls. However, it is important to note that the sense of community is a two-way street in that the upper class women can only offer help if they know their help is needed. And the best way for 1Ls to convey that the upper class’s help is needed is by getting involved in an organization, creating a relationship with the upper class members, and seeing the fruits of those interactions unfold.

So, thank you to all the upper class women who have reached out to me—it means a lot to me that you know your efforts are appreciated! And to my classmates who are reluctant to get involved: I hope that after reading this, perhaps you feel more comfortable trying out an extracurricular, or at the very least, reaching out to a 2L or 3L for guidance.

– Maria



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