Hardship is Relative

Julie Dostal '19
Guest Columnist

Each week there is some academic or extracurricular obligation that seems to challenge the notion of how much one human being can really do in a week’s time. Especially during 1L year, it seems rather impossible to stay afloat, much less get ahead. This point is made abundantly clear by how much law students enjoy talking about our overwhelming workloads, lack of free time, and ever-looming fears about finals. I am just as guilty of being consumed by my own “hardships” as the next law student, maybe more. My first two days of orientation I’m not sure I spoke more than five sentences without finishing at least one of them ending with “what the hell?” or “how am I going to do this?” Over the coming months, I lost perspective on what hard work and hardship actually meant. I thought spending hours at the library or a coffee shop poring over textbooks and frantically trying to keep up with typing my notes meant that I was not only working hard, but also that I was entitled to complain. 

I was wrong. One of my classmates wisely pointed out to me that hardship is relative. More so, it really is human nature to understand our societal position through a largely relative lens. At the law school, we are a population of highly intelligent and well-educated people. We are taught by some of the most accomplished and revered legal academics in the country, if not the world. Relative to the intellect prowess and work ethic of our peers, it is quite easy to feel constantly stressed, behind, or even inferior. While all of these thoughts and stress-induced conversation/rants seem justified, this justification only stems from a lack of relativity in our perspective or, to be more generous, a lack of consistent exposure to the realities of our privilege. 

As a graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law, (fingers crossed that I and the rest of planet Earth makes it to May 19th, 2019), we will be in the top two to three percent of the most educated Americans living in the United States. The first time I heard that statistic I felt shock, stemming purely from my own ignorance. In the U.S., only 43 percent of students earn a high school diploma. Further, 32 million Americans currently are functionally illiterate. 19 percent of American high school graduates fall within this category. One in seven adults falls into the category of “Prose Literacy” – defined as possessing no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills. In some of the most rural and impoverished communities across the U.S., the illiteracy rate skyrockets past 30 percent. A large number of Americans feign the ability to read to obtain employment and continue the farce throughout their careers. 

On the topic of employment, the great privileges associated with a law degree from the University of Virginia only become more apparent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average graduate from this Law School will make $80,000 more at an entry-level position than the median income of an American HOUSEHOLD. During the great financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent recession, when job opportunities in the legal market decreased, a law school graduate was still twice as likely to find employment than an individual with a Bachelor’s degree. Due to the generalized nature of the U.S. Census Bureau data, this statistic is also not wholly representative of the impact of a UVa Law education. 

All problems are relative. More importantly, the problems we face as UVa Law students are temporary. Very few people remember the first cold calls of fall semester. There are only so many assignments listed on our syllabi. Finals period ends. The stresses of 1L fade by 2L and are (hopefully) a distant memory by 3L. What has a much greater longevity, by far, is the worth of a UVa Law education. We will never live in fear of losing our jobs because we have trouble reading complex or even simplemaintain a better chance of employment at a relatively high-earning position than even a college graduate. Concerns of everyday Americans about buying back to school clothes for their children or putting dinner on the table do not seem to apply to us anymore. In short, it may be helpful to think of law school as one great tort. It may inflict bodily injury, most likely from having to get a higher prescription for your glasses, or the more likely scenario of pain and suffering. Either way, the payout from attending UVa is not a single recovery. The opportunities and station that we achieve when we graduate from this school far out way the pain of even journal tryouts, from which I procrastinated to write this article. 



1   https://www.census.gov/newsroom/cspan/educ/educ_attain_slides.pdf
2   https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/08/us-adults-rank-below-average-global-survey-basic-education-skills
3   https://www.census.gov/newsroom/cspan/educ/educ_attain_slides.pdf
4  https://www.census.gov/newsroom/cspan/educ/educ_attain_slides.pdf