Four new graduates look back at their HLS experiences and share their plans for the future
An evangelical Christian since her time at Harvard College, Laura Openshaw ’10 came to law school determined to start observing the Sabbath. From Saturday evening until Sunday evening, she didn’t work or study. Instead, she went to religious services, and tried to focus on things other than herself and her education. At the beginning of law school, she found putting everything else aside “incredibly hard. At first it felt like a burden,” she says, “but it’s been a blessing to put away the books, rest, refuel and enjoy the things I might not have time for.”
Openshaw’s faith infused all aspects of her time at HLS—from her strong focus on clinical work to her extracurricular activities to her choice of what path to take after graduation. Last year, as president of the pro-life group Society for Law, Life and Religion, she worked to increase connections and community among socially conservative law students. In classes, she’s found, “it’s often helpful for people to know who their colleagues are.” And during the past two summers, she worked for Greater Boston Legal Services, learning the intricacies of housing law and helping indigent clients defend against eviction.
A highlight of Openshaw’s time in law school was her two years of clinical work for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, which provides free legal assistance to people in the Boston area. Openshaw spent 30 to 40 hours a week representing victims of domestic violence in divorce cases, child custody cases and in other areas of family law. She calls the experience “formative in terms of helping me realize what I want to do as a lawyer and figuring out how law works on the ground.” She will be staying with the bureau next year as a clinical fellow, mentoring students and running her own cases. She is committed to remaining in this field in Boston for the long term: “My pro-life values and service values both grow from my faith. I see so much need in our society; there are tons of people who need assistance and support.”
In west Baltimore, where Darrell Bennett ’10 grew up, “We had a shortage of a lot of things,” he says, “but not negativity.” His mother made sure he didn’t listen to the chorus of “can’ts” around him. “She always gave me the sense that I didn’t have to end up where I’d started,” he says. She took him to church every Sunday, and during the week they’d go to the library to read about the likes of Lena Horne, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
After Bennett’s freshman year at Morehouse College, he applied for a number of internships, but was rejected. So that summer he wrote a book. Titled “Daring to be Different: 25 Tips for A Life of Success,” the book is aimed at pushing youth to pursue their goals. “I think, unfortunately, in a lot of minority communities there’s a push either to be mediocre or like everyone else. You can’t be successful doing that. The key to your success is in your uniqueness; it might be the very thing people tease you for,” he says.
Bennett believes the same message holds true for his HLS classmates. He sees some as hesitant to follow their dreams down unconventional paths, and counsels them “not to be afraid to step out a bit. Take the same tenacity and defiance that got you to HLS, and use it to push yourself forward.” It’s a theme Bennett, a class marshal, touched on in a speech at Class Day.
Bennett started at HLS right after college, and while he suspected law school would be a great experience, he says it has opened up a bigger network and more opportunities than he could have imagined. While at Harvard, he started work on another book, this one targeted at an older audience, about how “people can be a product of their imagination, not their environment.”
After graduation, Bennett plans to move to New York City, take the bar and continue sharing his message—through speeches, books, and his business helping young people come up with concrete plans for getting into and paying for college and graduate school. “Since I was a child, I’ve always been picked out for my ability to communicate. I knew this was where I felt most comfortable and where I could do the most good. I want people to hear my message and my story and say, ‘Hey, if he can do it, I can too.’”
Talhia Tuck ’10 is one of those rare people who follow their own advice.
The first thing she says she’d tell an incoming 1L is this: “It’s very important to be open to any academic or professional interest you might not have anticipated.” Tuck has worked as a Wall Street financial analyst; has been a television journalist with stints at MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” NBC’s “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw” and “The Chris Matthews Show,” and ABC’s “20/20”; and was once a Harvard admissions officer. But this native of the law-saturated world of Washington, D.C., always had law school in the back of her mind. After graduation, Tuck plans to augment her legal education by participating in the Ropes & Gray New Alternatives Program, in which she will pursue public interest work for one year and then return to Ropes & Gray as an associate in 2011. While she does not rule out returning to journalism one day, she says that law school helped to broaden her career outlook. “It’s intellectually enriching to see how much is out there for us to do,” she says.
Tuck also advises, “It’s important to get to know people. Discussions that take place outside the classroom are just as important as discussions in the classroom.” Along with the historic presidential election of HLS alumnus Barack Obama ’91, Tuck counts getting to know the 80 students in her first-year law section as a highlight of her law school experience. In addition to spending an entire year being together in almost every course, these students also socialized outside of class, convened regular study groups, shared notes and resources, attended each other’s events and performances, and raised funds for each other’s causes. Tuck feels that her life was immeasurably enriched by these interesting people of diverse talents and bright futures. “I value those friendships very much,” she says. “Many will be lifelong friendships.”
Finally, Tuck says, “There are so many resources at our school. Take advantage of them!” Besides seeking guidance from her fellow students and her professors, she fully used the Office of Career Services and the Office of Public Interest Advising, attending their speakers series and discussion groups, and consulting individually with advisers.
Tuck continues heeding her own counsel—particularly the admonition to be open to new interests. “I’ll always be learning about different ideas and subject matter,” she says—like the journalist/lawyer she now is.
Before she could even read, Neha Sheth ’10 was absorbed with the world. “I’d make my parents read me the National Geographic ‘Our World’ books over and over,” she recalls. She grew up speaking Gujarati in the home she shared with her parents and grandparents from the Indian state of Gujarat. She won her elementary school’s geography bee. By high school, her childhood passion had bloomed into a serious interest in international affairs, and she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison sporting three majors—Political Science, International Studies and French—and having had an internship experience at the House of Commons researching the issue of forced marriage in the U.K. After college, she spent a summer with the State Department at the U.S. mission to UNESCO in Paris, where she did research and drafted memos for a State Department attorney-adviser. Under his mentoring, she decided to apply to law school.
While awaiting her acceptance letters, Sheth, who also speaks fluent French and proficient Spanish, traveled. She spent two months in Mumbai, India, teaching English and math to indigent children, and two months in Cartago, Costa Rica, leading daily activities and exercises for elderly people.
Law school brought Sheth more opportunities for carrying her talents overseas. The summer after her first year, she joined Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, a human rights organization in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and wrote a 30-page article, entirely in Spanish, on the role of courts in promoting the right to education. Her clinical work took her all over Nepal, as she studied compensation programs for civilian victims of the Nepalese civil war (1996-2006), and to The Hague, where she witnessed part of the first trial held at the International Criminal Court.
After her second year, Sheth landed a highly competitive summer position with the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser. There, she wrote the U.S. response to a Human Rights Council complaint and reviewed treaty provisions while working for the Office of International Claims and Investment Disputes and the Office of Human Rights and Refugees. She so impressed her supervisors that she’s been hired back as an attorney-adviser. After graduation, Sheth will be working in Washington, D.C.—she is waiting for Office of the Legal Adviser to notify her of her specific assignment. “I think I’ll be pretty happy wherever I end up,” she says.