My whole life I wanted to become an actor. I spent every summer on a stage starting at age seven. Every waking moment I dedicated to perfecting my Oscar acceptance speech. I set my heart on performing. In middle school I auditioned for the largest art school in Denver. After three tries I finally got in a week before eighth grade. It felt like a confirmation that I was meant to be an actor.
In high school, I learned art could mean more than delivering monologues and telling stories through action and reaction. My high school offered 11 art majors. My idea of art expanded. I found writing and directing. When it came time to apply to college I knew I didn’t necessarily want to become an actor but I needed to be an artist. Living surrounded by art for five years made me feel like nothing else really mattered. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. If I wasn’t an artist, who was I? I remember a friend told me he planned to major in business. I thought, “Why would you ever want to do something so… boring?”
Anything outside the creative felt too practical.
Practicality means dull. Not for me. I was a true artist.
I applied to New York University and got in as a journalism major, hoping to write about theatre, food, wine, movies and more. I wanted to combine my love for writing with the creative parts of myself. I wasn’t performing, but at least I would make art with my words and bringing the wonders of life to the people. Plus I planned to minor in creative writing. I was an artist!
My first semester I didn’t take any creative writing or art classes. I wanted to get all of my core requirements out of the way first so I could focus on creating. That semester I took a prerequisite that dealt with the analysis of texts. I also signed up for a class taught by the law school at NYU. I thought it looked mildly interesting but, more importantly, it satisfied one of my prerequisites.
My dad is a lawyer and I always wondered about law so I signed up. I didn’t think too much of it while I took it. We focused on one legal case the entire semester. I didn’t even understand what we discussed half the time. If that was what “the law” was, I didn’t want any part of it. I spent most of my time worrying about my writing class (which I nailed, by the way). That class made me feel like I belonged. I knew how to use words and I came up with an answer every time the professor asked a question. I always walked out thinking, “This is what I’m doing for the rest of my life.”
In my second semester, it came time to take my required first-year seminar. I decided on another law class: “Free Speech, Hate Speech and The First Amendment.” I felt okay about it but after my first experience with a law class, I didn’t expect anything special. Over winter break our professor assigned the book Freedom for The Thought We Hate by Anthony Lewis. Homework over break? Not a good sign. I ordered the book—reluctantly—from Amazon.
As I began reading it I didn’t hate it as much as I thought. I guess I actually…liked it. It covered a lot of my curiosities, like why we have certain laws, where they came from and why they’re important. Lewis explained why the Constitution was amended and the arguments and protests that led to those Amendments.
Once the semester actually started, our professor assigned that read one of the U.S. Supreme Court cases Lewis discussed in his book and write about something I disagreed with in the decision. I could get behind this assignment. I spent an entire day up to my elbows in legal documents crafting a dissent to the 1967 Hill v. Time Inc. case. When my professor handed it back to me, he simply said, “Good point well argued.” I felt proud of myself but still chalked it up to my writing skill. I was meant to be a writer and he confirmed it.
Next, the professor asked us to give our opinions on “political correctness” and free speech in America. Most recently he asked us to decide a hypothetical sexual assault case. I lived for this class. I hold strong opinions and reveled in the opportunity to express them both in writing and in-class debates. The professor always gave me positive feedback. The line that really sent me over the edge: “You have a gift for this kind of analysis and writing.”
These words changed the course of my future.
I really started to think about what I wanted to do. I knew I loved writing and my law class. I started to think about why back in June I chose two law classes for my first year of college. Maybe there was a reason I was drawn to them. I talked about my coursework with my mom and she said, “I think you found your calling.” This was before I told my parents I rethought my life plan: I want to go to law school.
Before I told my parents about my plan (because that makes it official, right?), I thought about what it would mean to leave my dreams of becoming an artist and creative journalist behind. I thought about how my days wouldn’t be filled with the rehearsals I love or the Bon Appetit test kitchen I fantasized about. But it did mean something else. If I become a lawyer I will still do something I love—writing and fighting to make the world a better place.
I called my dad first, the real live lawyer of the family. He used his usual less-than-emotional tone even when I told him I was thinking about Columbia University Law School. But I knew he thought it was a good idea because he blew up on my phone two seconds after I hung up with Columbia’s ranking and what he thought I should major in. My mom told me later that after we got off the phone he researched top law schools and NYU majors. When I told my aunt she said, “I always saw you doing that. It’s just who you are.”
So everyone agrees. I found my calling. It feels a little bittersweet. I’m letting go of who I wanted to be for 19 years, but now I’m finding that this is always who I was supposed to be. The good news? Lawyers have personal lives. I can always find time to see a play, write a short story or play guitar. The lesson I learned in high school is coming back to me—being an artist doesn’t look like one thing, it’s whatever art means to you.