Deep within my childhood neighborhood, there’s a famous hill we used to refer to as “Suicide hill.” In today’s more mental-health-conscious world, the title is admittedly insensitive, but kids will be kids. Suicide hill earned its name from the many broken limbs it claimed as the most famous, yet dangerous, sledding spot in the area. Its sharp, sudden, incline gave way to some of the best downhill g’s of a snowed-in-kid’s dreams – that is of course if you avoided the creek, and the telephone poles, other sledders, and the bridge.
The thing about Suicide hill is how unforgivably steep it becomes. It sneaks up on you. From afar, its trail is deceptively flat, inspiring dangerous confidence. Regret sets in at the half-way point and that’s when decisions must be made. At a simpler time, it was whether we had the strength and energy to carry our sleds the rest of the way. We could stop and the ride would be decent. Of course, the real reward was in making it to the peak. But sometimes the snow was too wet, the sled was too heavy, the temperature was too brutal, and the wind was too much. So, we’d settle.
In the warmer months, Suicide hill was a runner’s personal record; an attractive challenge. We measured progress by whether we could make it all the way up without stopping. Some days it was literally sweat, blood, and tears (and the occasional vomit) that got us up that hill. Other days – like those brutal 102-degree swampy Virginia summers – best effort had to do and so we’d walk.
Regardless of what brought me to Suicide hill, nothing beat the feeling of getting to the other side of the peak. Because the moment the other side came into focus, you knew the hard part was over. You were not only going to make it – but you were going to conquer Suicide hill.
So many good childhood memories were made on that hill – about 10 years of them I’d estimate.
Tonight, I find myself sitting atop Suicide hill. Years have passed, friends have moved, I’m an adult, and what brings me here now is nothing like what brought me here before. The main difference: I don’t want to be here. The hopelessness hasn’t quite subsided as it should. And things still feel impossible. But regardless, I’m here tonight because this is the highest point in my life right now. And though the world may be crumbling around me, up here, I can still see the other side of this peak.
I’m not a medical professional nor a therapist nor a psychic. I can’t tell you when things will normalize and when life will feel a little less sad and desperate. But if I’ve learned anything about conquering hills – both physical and mental – it’s that there will always be a part that has to get easier. And though right now we can’t see beyond the peak, and what’s ahead is rather unclear, importantly it’s not non-existent. We’re at the sudden incline, the hard part, the decision-making stage. Will we drag our sleds the rest of the way? Will we hit a new life PR? Or do we turn around and call it good enough?
I urge you to choose the former.
This is the one worth climbing. To my colleagues and peers, we have come so far and so fast in our legal careers for one blip, one steep slope, to stop us from reaching our peak. I know right now things feel hopeless as the hill keeps growing steeper. But I promise the end rewards growth. We will triumphantly stand atop 2020 stronger than ever. And on the other side awaits our entire careers; the livelihoods we’ve been cultivating. But we have to dig deep right now.
We have to refuel, reset, and rekindle that motivation and drive that burned bright within us on convocation day. I think back to the time “welcome to Santa Clara Law” was proclaimed by the Dean in Mayer Theatre and we stood there and clapped and cried (well ok – I cried) and I remember the overwhelming feeling of home, calling, and direction. That same energy we shared as we looked at each other with a sense of hope, purpose, pride, and excitement for what’s to come now awaits us at commencement. Though we may not see it right now, that is the other side of the peak. We just have to get there.
And together – or at least 6 ft apart – we will.