I've started several posts about this and not finished them, so here are my unorganized and unedited thoughts about Celebration 60, which I attended this past weekend.
C60 is one of a series of conferences taking place every five years, starting with Celebration 25, commemorating the graduation of the first class of women from Harvard Law School in 1953. Some of the members of that first class were at the conference. Given all that they had to overcome, it's amazing what illustrious careers they had. I think almost half of the 13 women eventually become judges.
It was an inspiring weekend. So many brilliant, accomplished women in one place. Speakers included the Dean of the law school, Martha Minow, who can speak to a giant group of people and make each one feel like she cares about them individually; Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking; David Wilkins, who gave some sobering statistics about women in the legal profession; and one of my favorite professors, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who just plain kicks ass.
David Wilkins' talk included some interesting statistics about how going from 1 kid to 2+ kids has a huge impact on your career, and some unsurprising statistics about how women are vastly more likely than men to modify their careers to accommodate their families.
My favorite panel was one where extremely accomplished women talked about their careers. The message was basically that they all just did what they wanted to do and had to do and were good at, and we shouldn't be intimidated because even though they sound so amazing on paper, in reality we all muddle along and try to make the best decisions we can. Two of the women talked very openly about how they made major career decisions triggered by their divorces.
I went to a panel about women in technology that turned into lots of swapping stories about women being denied promotions and salary increases, sexual harassment, and more subtle bad treatment. Depressing. All these women were in the VC and start-up world, which I have to imagine is worse than the rest of the tech industry.
One of the best things about the conference was the feeling of warmth and community -- not something you generally associate with Harvard Law School. I met so many great women. On Saturday night we had a random two-hour break before dinner, and we were all wondering what to do with ourselves. I found two classmates and we started chatting with three women from the class of '01. We followed them to Chez Henri, where the six of us bonded over cocktails. Having graduated in the pre-Kagan era, they remembered HLS as a miserable place and couldn't believe our tales of friendly administrators and free cookies.
Dean Kagan (now Justice Kagan, but I keep thinking of her as Dean Kagan) was frequently invoked throughout the weekend. Her portrait was unveiled at the conference, to join the portraits of the other law school deans. It's amazing how dramatically the law school seems to have changed as soon as she became Dean. When you talk to women and people of color who went to the law school before 2003, they're uniformly bitter about their experience. Someone from the class of '05, who had Kagan as Dean all the way through, told me how the 2Ls and 3Ls were so excited when they were explaining to the incoming class of '05 how things had changed for the better so quickly. I think she was the first one who actually cared about the students and their experience. HLS was a famously harsh place before her.
I had a good experience at HLS, but mainly because I found my niche (ADR people and scattered friends who weren't necessarily in my section). I never enjoyed the big group events, including graduation, and never really looked forward to going back for reunions or other events. It just wasn't my scene. But it's a very different feel with just the women alums, who tend to forge their own path instead of going for the most money and prestige. I'll definitely be back for Celebration 65.
I left with a giant phone book-like directory, which at first I didn't understand -- why would they give us this huge book instead of distributing it electronically? And then I started looking through it and realized -- this book has contact information for EVERY ALUMNA of HLS EVER. Okay, Michelle Obama's entry just gives me the contact information for the White House, but I now have the personal email addresses of nearly 60 years' worth of HLS almunae. I'm kind of obsessed with this book now. I keep flipping through it.