Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thank You, Alfredo!

I’m going to digress from our June topic of judging to tell you about a special person. Alfredo was my student in his first year of law school years ago. As some of you might know, and others can guess, the first year of law school is very stressful. It is unlike any academic work most students have encountered. Whether students are coming straight from undergraduate programs or from the working world, they are usually overwhelmed. And to make it worse, most first year law courses are graded solely on a single exam at the end of the semester. (Don’t get me started on the wisdom of this approach to legal education or I will have to switch my “complaint bracelet” to the other wrist!)

It is not uncommon for first year students to experience panic as their first exams approach. This panic leads some to reevaluate their desire and commitment to be part of the legal profession. I did not sense this growing panic in Alfredo. He was a model student all semester. A career Army guy, he was unfailingly polite (always called me ma’am), worked hard, and did well in class. So I was very surprised to get a notice from the registrar shortly before first semester exams that he had withdrawn from school.

Never hesitant to butt into other people’s business(!), I contacted him immediately and asked him to come see me right away. I had a hunch that he was making a decision out of anxiety and not out of a clear recognition that law school was not his thing. (Law school isn’t for everyone and that’s fine.) Another professor also encouraged him to reconsider.

In short, he decided to get reinstated and take his exams. Two and a half years later, I met his family at his law school graduation. They were so proud of him, and rightly so. And I was very pleased because I knew all along that he would be a great lawyer. I knew he would be great because he has the right stuff – integrity, humility, courage, devotion, intelligence, compassion, and a sense of service. (No one will be making bad lawyer jokes about this guy.)

I lost touch with him over the years, but he contacted me recently after receiving the announcement from the school about my retirement. He is currently serving in Iraq as an officer in the JAG Corps, working to stabilize the government as we pull out. If anyone can make a difference there, I’m sure he can.

Today, I was surprised and intrigued by a heavy package delivered by the mail carrier. It was from Alfredo, all the way from Iraq. Inside were exquisite small tablecloths, embroidered with beads and sequins. And a set of brilliant emerald green crystal bowls. I was moved to tears by the beauty of the gift, but even more so by the beauty of the sentiment.

As I reflect on my career, I have many wonderful memories and many things I am proud of. But at the top of my list is the honor of knowing Alfredo and playing whatever small part I played, along with others, at a crossroads in his life. So today’s post is dedicated to Alfredo. Thank you for persevering to become part of a profession I love. Thank you for serving our country. Thank you for remembering me. And thank you for a gift I will treasure always.


  1. Galen: That is such a great story. I am sure you feel so proud :) I had no idea you were a law professor. I must admit that my heart rate raised when I started reading this post and had memories of 1L year :) That single exam
    is such a killer for the 1 L's mindset.

  2. Galen this is such a touching story. I wonder if we are all blessed to have that one person in our life who made such a difference? This man sounds incredible and hats off to him to be doing what he is.

    Don't you find it extremely humbling when someone acknowledges you for making a difference? It sure touches me in an unexplainable way.

    Have a great day!

  3. Sibyl--Yes, those memories of 1L exams will make the heart of any lawyer race a bit! Are you still practicing? I don't know how you find time with all the excellent work you do with your blog and your writing! Thanks for commenting.

    darlin--You are right. It is so very humbling to be acknowledged like this, especially by someone I admire so much. I'm glad you could appreciate how special he is. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Oh Galen, that is so touching! What a great feeling that you touched someone's life and how grateful they are for it! What a wonderful gift as well! I hope you keep in touch with him and follow him through is journey in life!

  5. This was a lovely story and I enjoyed your thoughts on Alfredo.

  6. Thank you for sharing you thank you - magic moment
    what a lovely thing to do and receive.

  7. Getting such affirmations... are very special indeed. Great job, teacher. You are still teaching... thanks for such posts.

  8. A special finish for a special act. You were right to encourage him. Such affirmations mean a lot. You are still teaching... Thank you!

  9. Hi Galen,

    I loved the story you shared! It is so heartwarming to read how about the impact you had on Alfredo's life all those years ago. Because of your actions, he was able to become a great lawyer and make a difference in the world. In many ways, you are partly responsible for who he is today. All the good that he does is the result of your willingness to butt into other people's business and it is fitting that he remembers you for it and expresses his gratitude with the gift you received. Such moments in life reminds us of the interconnectedness of the world and how things come full circle.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  10. What a brilliant story!! I love it! I almost wanted to study law myself but in the end, decided in favor of accountancy. I thought that I would have an easier time balancing accounts. Well, the truth is that my accounts have seldom balanced LOL!

    It's awesome what you did for Alfredo. And he knew how much your words must have meant. It's wonderful that he still remembers you after all these years.

    Thank you for being you!! You've been such an inspiration for love and light!!

  11. ryoko--I hope he does stay in touch. I would really like to know how he's doing. Thanks for your comment.

    LeAnn and Patricia--I am glad you liked the story. Thanks for commenting.

    restoring--I do love to teach. I suspect that teaching in one form or another will continue in my retired life. Thanks for commenting.

    Irving--I appreciate your perspective about the interconnectedness of everything. I had not thought about this in those terms but when you pointed it out, I realized that that was one of aspects I was experiencing. Thank you!


    Evelyn--Thank you for your kind words. What I learned from this story in my own life is that we all have these opportunities when what seems like a small gesture can have a big impact on someone's life. It makes me try to be more attuned to those opportunities and to act with compassion and responsibility. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Ahhh…this is such a sweet post. At high school I was a little bit weak in one of the subjects, but the teacher of that subject was so sweet and encouraging, that I started getting good grades. Sometimes others make us feel very special and give us the feeling that we actually can do it, and u are a special person that deserves a special gift.;)

  13. Sharda--Thanks. I hope I conveyed even a little bit of how special Alredo is. I have a high school teacher I remember that way, too. She really made a difference for me. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Galen,
    Teachers can make a big difference in the lives of their students, but often they don't get recognized and appreciated as they should. I am glad Alredo remembered you and expressed his appreciation for what you did for him.
    I had a high school teacher who changed my life. We kept in touch for years through letters. I was able to tell him how much I appreciated him. He passed away several years ago. Every time I think of him, tears come to me. He is such a special person to me.


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