CHEYENNE, WY – For some, trying to figure out what you’re going to do with your life can be difficult. If you’re not careful you can really work up a sweat.
The other day I was thinking back to the time when I did it – or at least, began to do it. For me, it was different.
I was a senior at Loyola University Maryland – known back then as Loyola College, a small Jesuit institution for men, with an enrollment of only a thousand students. Not having anyone who could mentor me – or who even took much of an interest – I was on my own about stuff like this. I wasn’t bitter or upset about it. It was the same with my studies, and with my sports, and it had been that way since I was around twelve.
After three years and almost a full semester in college, of trying to learn, trying to excel at sports, and trying not to let myself be destroyed emotionally by my fathers’ frequent heart attacks and my brother’s several “nervous breakdowns,” I decided that maybe, just maybe, I might like a career in teaching.
But, there were two problems with that: One, I was a pre-law student, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy and Economics. I was not an Education major. The second: to become a teacher, I’d need at least two education courses and a semester of student teaching.
Hurdles to get over? Actually, there were two of those, also; there was only one semester left to get those courses, and because of the time and energy spent on the above-described activities, my grades were, uh, well, not the best.
I went to see the Dean of Students over in Jenkins Hall. Told him my plan. He frowned, pulled my transcript, studied my records for a minute or two, and then said, “Mr. Sacco. To do what you’re suggesting, you’d need three more courses in addition to the ones you must take to satisfy your major. With your . . . grades in the past, I just could not recommend it. The workload would probably be too much.”
I didn’t try to convince him that I could do it. Why? Didn’t know, myself, if I could do it. And I didn’t have the level of self-confidence to believe that I could do it – that he might be wrong. So, I thanked him for his time and left his office.
Out in the hall a minute later, I stopped to think, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I was back to Square One. I transferred my books from one arm to the other. Found myself outside the classroom where I took Dr. Harry Kirwan’s Constitutional Law course, which I found interesting and liked very much. Before I could move on, Dr. Kirwan rounded the corner, heading toward his classroom – and me.
“Mr. Sacco? A word, please.”
Dr. Kirwin walked with two canes. He’d had polio as a child and his legs weren’t what they should have been. He labored to a stop in front of me. “You’re aware that the LSAT is scheduled for six weeks from tomorrow, are you not?”
“Yes. You’re planning to take it, right?”
“Ah . . . do you think I should?”
“Of course. I think you’d make a fine lawyer.” He moved toward the classroom door. “If you haven’t already signed up, do it now. In the Dean’s office. Right away. There’s not much time left.” With that, he was gone.
So, that’s how it was. Not exactly Saul of Tarsus being knocked off his horse by a bolt of lightning. Nor was it after a month or more of serious thought. Nor after long and earnest discussions with my parents. My mother had never finished high school, much less set foot in a college classroom. My dad had gone to MIT in Boston, but it was way back during the Depression, and he was so stressed at the time that stuff like this didn’t compute. And now, after a series of serious heart attacks, he was so pre-occupied with his own health problems, he had no time to advise his son about anything; sports, college courses, or career choices. I was on my own.
I left Jenkins Hall, wandered over to the Chapel, and sat in the cool quiet. No one was there. Except for the candle burning in the Sanctuary indicating the presence of Jesus, I had the place to myself.
“I think you’d make a fine lawyer,” Doc Kirwin had said. True, my grade in his class was a B at this point in the Semester. Not too shabby. True, I liked, even felt challenged by the subject matter, and at times, had thought I’d like to know more.
But . . . it was what he’d said. No one had ever paid me a compliment like that. I had not known what he thought of my puny efforts in his class, much less that he felt I’d “make a fine lawyer.”
I sat there for maybe ten minutes. I prayed that God would send the Holy Spirit with the discernment I needed, just then, to make a decision. Finally, I rose, walked out into the bright sun, back to Jenkins Hall and the Dean’s office, and signed up for the LSAT.
“The rest,” as they say, “is History.”