So often our process of vocational discernment resembles this passage from 1 Kings 19:11-13: we anticipate some dramatic, divine revelation that provides us with direction, but the answers we seek are instead found in more subtle moments and experiences.
If someone had told me during my first semester at Boston College in Fall 2009 that I’d be working as an associate at a Washington, D.C. law firm 10 years later, I would have been shocked. After all, I don’t come from a family of lawyers, so that trail had not been predestined for me at birth. Nor was there a particular childhood moment where I realized this was where I was meant to be. In fact, my only exposure to law growing up was from reading To Kill a Mockingbird and watching Legally Blonde with my two younger sisters, Emily (BC ’15) and Amy (BC ’17). Back then, I would have guessed that I would get a Ph.D. in political science and teach at a university after my time on the Heights.
But the “still small voice,” as a different translation of 1 Kings puts it, made clear that it had other plans for me. Three moments come to mind as particularly important in setting me on this path. The first one dates back to freshman orientation. Though much of that three-day stretch is a blur, one moment stands out: a talk by Father Michael Himes in Robsham Theater. There, he posed three questions for us to reflect on during our undergraduate journey—and beyond:
- What am I good at?
- What brings me joy?
- What does the world need me to do?
I’ve come back to those questions time and again over the past 10 years, and I’ve gleaned some invaluable insights about myself. I realized that I was drawn to analyzing a problem from multiple perspectives. I recognized that I enjoyed public speaking and thinking on my feet. And I gathered that I had an ability to explain complicated issues in an accessible way.
Those reflections opened me to the possibility of law school. At first, though, I thought that I’d just pair the law degree with the aforementioned Ph.D. Several conversations with professors during my junior year stopped that idea in its tracks. After listening to my thoughts on the idea of a J.D./Ph.D., they explained that academia might not be the right fit. Instead, they encouraged me to focus only on law because they saw it as a better vehicle to unite my passions, values, and ambitions.
Yet some part of me still resisted the notion of law school. Perhaps because it felt like a “necessary evil”—a three-year grind that had to be done but would not be enjoyable. And, besides, there were many other exciting possibilities for post-BC life: I had enjoyed working on a political campaign in the fall of 2012; I had considered teaching high school for a year or two; and I had sent applications to work on Capitol Hill.
So when I visited the University of Virginia School of Law for its admitted students day in March 2013, I was by no means set to submit my deposit. But I was shocked to listen to the students beam while talking about how much they loved law school. And they followed up an even more astounding statement: their classmates were at their most competitive not in the classroom or the library, but on the softball diamond. I was sold: this was the place for me.
Six years later—after receiving my J.D./M.B.A. from UVA and completing a federal clerkship on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit—I can say unequivocally that I’m content with this path that explores the intersection of law, business, and government. There was no dramatic event that guided me there—only a series of conversations and moments that collectively nudged me in that direction. For those considering law school, my story is a reminder that there might not be a single moment that illuminates whether you should/shouldn’t apply. And that’s okay. Just listen for the “still small voice.” If it’s telling you do so, say “yes.”
—Alexander J. Hoffarth ’13