Charlotte A. Houser, JD MPA
Former Hardwick-Woods Fellow 2018-2019
“I want you to take your personal statement and read it every day. Tape it to your fridge, to your mirror, keep it on hand. Use it to remember why you are here.”
I vividly remember these words uttered by Doug Blaze on the first Friday of the Fall 2016 semester. I sat in the middle of Room 132, fourth row, first seat on the left with a notebook, four pens, ten labeled highlighters, and not a clue of what to expect. I was the poster child for the terrified 1L stereotype. I had no idea what those words would mean to me over the next three years. In full disclosure, I did not tape up my personal statement. I had changed computers and did not bother to keep a copy. But when I went home that afternoon, I wrote ten words on a piece of paper, folded it up, and placed it in my jewelry box. “I want to graduate, I want to leave here happy.” I opened this note and read these words to myself no less than three dozen times throughout law school and each time it helped me realign myself. In truth, it was only the first instance where the Institute for Professional Leadership helped me get through.
The Institute was really the first place I felt at home in Knoxville, though at the time it was just a feeling rather than an actual space. As a 1L, I drove roughly three hours a day and I could actually feel the air leave my lungs as I pushed through the first semester. It was during that time that I clung to the Lawyering and Professionalism class like a life preserver. Hearing each of the different speakers discuss their various career paths and being open with us about the challenges they faced along the way gave me hope that I could overcome all of the obstacles in my way. I remember Candice Reed’s lecture on positive psychology and how I would verbally remind myself of three things I was grateful for every day for about a month. I truly believe this class is what kept me in law school.
However, the Institute has served as more than a home for me, it was where I grew (at times painfully) into the person I am today. In Lawyers as Leaders, I was pushed to really think about what I wanted for my life. Each class I thought more and more about the plights of attorneys, I thought of how I could balance the key components of my life, I thought of how I could achieve what I needed to achieve to feel fulfillment. I had entered law school with a very specific, very rigid plan to become a transactional tax attorney. But this class pushed me to consider other avenues, it pushed me to take a chance rather than pursue something only for the sake of stability. Lawyers as Leaders pushed me to grow, even when I didn’t want to. For me, the real eye-opener came on our last day of class as Buck Lewis and Doug Blaze shared their stories with the class. I remember thinking so deeply about what I wanted to be my legacy. Honestly, I still haven’t answered that question. But it pushed me to live with more intentionality, to think about the long-term effects of my choices, and to have a list of characteristics for my life.
My final year with the Institute was arguably the hardest and most amazing time of my life. It was during this time that I learned what it meant to become a good leader. In the spring of my 2L year, I was selected as the 2018-2019 Hardwick-Woods Fellow. This afforded me the privilege of working directly with Professor Blaze and the entire leadership team. During this time, I was fortunate enough to meet great leaders from across the world when the Institute hosted the Trans-Pacific Perspectives course over winter break. Hearing the thoughts of the students and Justice Derrington allowed me to better understand leadership components like self-awareness and empathetic leading. In the Spring, I put all that I had learned through the leadership curriculum into practice when the Institute hosted the national leadership roundtable discussion. This conference showed me exactly what this leadership program was achieving, strong leaders who embody the volunteer spirit. Leaders who step up in crisis and who support each other and their community. I learned more about being a good leader from the team of students who made the conference possible than I ever thought possible. It is an experience I will always carry with me.
The Institute means so many different things to so many different people. For some, myself included, it has served as a life preserver during a deeply stressful time. For others, its curriculum has served as a catalyst for change in their lives. Regardless of its role, the impact of the Institute for Professional Leadership cannot be denied. I will forever be grateful for my time with the Institute and for the opportunity to work with the UTK Law community, there is no better community of which I could be a part. To those who helped me along the way, thank you for giving your time and your energy to help me become a better leader, a better lawyer, and a better person. To those who come after me, I urge you to truly appreciate and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to you. And to my beloved Institute, thank you for being my comfort, for pushing me to grow, and for being my home. Thank you for making it possible for me to leave happy.