My husband and I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2005. We haven't been back since.
We have been in and out of Philadelphia over the years, but we just never made it back to the campus. I'm not sure why. To be sure, I definitely don't feel the affinity to UPenn that I do to my undergrad school, Penn State (not to be confused with UPenn. Even though most of America thinks it's the same place). I only spent 3 years there. I never lived on campus. And though I made friends, they haven't been the lifelong friends I have from college.
But then of course, there is my husband. It's where we met. Where it all began.
It seemed fitting, and long overdue, that we make the homage back to UPenn with our kids. So this weekend, we made the trip to Philly. And on Sunday morning, we awoke from our hotel and set out to tour the campus for the first time in seven years.
It's a weird feeling to go back to a university that you've left. There's almost a feeling of disloyalty toward the institution itself - How could you continue on without me? Don't you realize I left? That I grew up? How dare you pretend like nothing's changed? How dare you go on as if I never came?
The fact is, people change more than places. And though the law school had undergone a major renovation and was looking swanky new, so much was the same. The restaurants, the coffee shops, the squirrels running across the campus. I had flashbacks of studying for Crim Law at a table outside of Cosi - the same table that the four of us sat at this weekend on Sunday morning. We passed by Mad Mex and I had a raw memory of red frozen margaritas and the hangover from hell. We peered in the windows at the Barnes & Noble where I bought all of my text books. All still there, all the same. If I closed my eyes, I could feel myself go back in time for a brief moment - when I was 23, young, naive, and yet thought I knew everything.
Back then I never thought about a career. That may sound funny, given that I was in law school, but everything on my horizon was short term. I was concerned about getting a summer job, finding time to travel, and maintaining a positive balance in my checking account. The truth is, in law school, I never thought about being a lawyer.
I also never thought about being a wife. Or a mother. Of course I wanted those things. But those were theoreticals. Dreams idealized. Things that grown ups did when they were done with law school and had entered the real world.
I avoided the real world for a long time. And in a lot of ways, law school was my final attempt to do just that.
I suppose it would be easy for me to be angry at UPenn. For giving me a career that didn't work for me. For burdening me with student loans. For unleashing me into a real world that isn't all dreams idealized.
Not everything has gone to plan since I left UPenn. A lot has changed, and a lot has gone wrong. But at the end of the day, UPenn led me to the greatest gifts of my life.
So ironically, what I thought about when I was touring the campus this weekend wasn't how my law career has been sidelined. Or all my student loan debt.
It was how nearly ten years ago, I was assigned to Section 3. And so was my husband.
And how I never could have imagined how that would lead to my real purpose, and my most important job in life. A job that a legal education could never prepare me for. But one that is all the more fulfilling.
So to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, I will be forever grateful. It was worth every penny.