Student Posts

The Public Service Imperative

Life is beautiful. It is easy to get wrapped up in our work and our goals and struggles and to forget what an absolute gift it is to be on this earth, to wake up each day, to experience the myriad joys, great and small, that each day holds. To move through our lives, to discover and build ourselves and to form connections with others, each on our own journeys. And on top of that what an incredible privilege it is to not have our daily lives be mediated by violence, disease, or poverty, creating barriers to our own joy and agency. But we know that too many others are suffering, and that is in part why we have chosen the path of service.

I think about this a lot while walking the halls of UVA Law, surrounded by the bright young future of the legal profession, busy diligently preparing for lives of professional success and, hopefully, personal satisfaction. I think about how we define success, and how it gets defined for us, in many cases before we’ve had a chance to figure out how we would define it for ourselves. I think about how and why we derive satisfaction from our work, and the values that play into that. And I can’t help but think about these questions in the context of what is happening in the world outside these halls, around the world and in our own embarrassingly wealthy yet poverty-stricken country. I think about what life means, and whether it means something different for us walking these halls than it does for the ones sleeping in the street. Does life have greater meaning for the person making a hundred eighty grand a year than for the person struggling to feed their children?

We are all connected. We are born out of the universe, we live, love, and die, and return from whence we came. We are one. One person’s suffering is all of our suffering. I firmly believe this is the truth. I want to shout this truth from the rooftops and in the halls of Congress. I want to share this truth with everyone I know and come in contact with. I especially want to share it with anyone who would ever consider devoting their working lives to amassing personal wealth. You can’t take it with you, I would say, lovingly but forcefully. Love is all there is, so let’s love one another and work together to make a world in which everyone can live in peace and love!

Material wealth means nothing, except in that it enables us to serve others. I’m not a Christian, but Jesus is about the most inspiring figure I can imagine—the literal embodiment of love, of service, of sacrifice. I was similarly inspired hearing Dr. Larycia Hawkins talk a month ago about embodying solidarity through our lives and daily actions. I was similarly inspired by a fellow attendee at RebLaw a few weeks ago who shared her personal theory of justice: to protect and serve the most vulnerable among us, and work outwards from there. Why? Because our joy withers in the face of our neighbor’s suffering. Because we refuse to be ignorant of their suffering. Because we could never be truly happy knowing that we had the power to make a difference and instead chose our own comfort.

Inherent in life is choice, perhaps the greatest gift of all. It is up to us to choose how we spend this life we’ve been given. And every choice we make is an active choice—having this freedom means we must take full responsibility for how we use it. This is true for all, but none more so than it is for us, the privileged future masters of the laws that govern our society. That we were given such freedom and power—that we enjoy such meaningful agency in our lives while others have none—should be enough to tell us what to do with it.

I am inspired every day by you all for making the choice to serve—to work so that others may live free. Thank you.


Ryan Snow is a 2L from Stanford, California. He graduated from Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music in 2005 with degrees in Politics and Jazz Studies, and moved to Brooklyn, NY, where he spent ten years working as a professional trombonist before becoming radicalized by the Roberts Court. He spent last summer working at the Campaign Legal Center, will spend this summer working at the DOJ Voting Section, and plans to spend his career working to make our political system more accessible and responsive to the people.

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