As many of you know, graduation was on May 19. Although, it seems like yesterday in a way. The moment when Professor Shipley called my name and I received my [currently empty] diploma tube from Dean Ringhand was the greatest moment of my life. It was really surreal.
Graduating was a personal accomplishment like no other. This will be my first diploma with “Harris” on it. My license has my name on it too, but I think this diploma says more about me than my license does. I’ve always been a Georgia Bulldog, but now I have proof.
My mom and uncle went to Georgia for undergraduate school, so when I was growing up we would come to Athens fairly often. Back then the University represented a lot of different things to me. In my mind it was pinnacle of academia. It was also a safe harbor of sorts for some of my “stereotypical boyish” childhood interests that weren’t always accepted. My mom generally tolerated my frequent wearing of UGA shirts over more “feminine” clothing, and most people encouraged my being a maniacal fan of Georgia sports. But at its core, UGA represented this fanciful level of safety for me. In high school I would tell myself that I just had to work hard at school and golf so I could go to UGA on scholarship. Somehow that achievement would make the years of abuse from my father fade away. It was a lie I told myself to survive those years.
When I first got to Georgia Law, my focus on survival didn’t end. The near constant misgendering, feelings of inadequacy, and pressure to perform just about killed me. Slowly those things lessened. The past three years have been better than I ever dreamed in so many ways, even with the hardships. I made friends whom I now consider family. They corrected people who misgendered me, looked out for me in public restrooms, gave me pep talks full of rainbows and butterflies, comforted me while I cried after the 2016 election, threw me birthday parties, and treated me like one of the guys. Some of my favorite moments were just hanging out with classmates and professors. My professors–and classmates, to be honest–are some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. I am thankful for the world-class legal education I received. My favorite class was on gender identity and sexuality law (obviously). It was taught by the first openly gay teacher I’ve ever had. It was truly glorious to look to the front of the classroom and for the first time, see myself looking back.
All of my internship experiences were impactful too. For example, I spent a summer in New York City where I worked in an office full of transgender people, learned about ballroom, and felt like I got to meet Marsha, in a way. I also worked for the first female Judge of the Western Circuit Superior Court, a Georgia Law alumna. A friend of mine reminded me that his generation of transgender people likely wouldn’t have had that opportunity, which was something I carried with me every day. I carried a lot with me through law school, which is why I am deeply grateful for the support I received.
All of this is to say, I am so proud to be an alumnus.
All the best,