Twenty-three years ago, I sat petrified along with 120 equally traumatized strangers who were to be my adversaries in the law school equivalent of Survivor. Then enrolled in the fledgling International School of Law, we were part of what was to be the first graduating class of George Mason University School of Law in 1980.
We came from all over the country, desperately wanting to become lawyers and even more desperately seeking some respect in a world that only recognized accredited law schools--which we were not. We sat in the makeshift lecture hall that occupied the lobby of an old department store waiting to meet former Adjutant Judge Professor David Condon, Torts 101.
I had read the book Paper Chase and knew full well the havoc, the unmerciful take-no-prisoners attitude Professor Kingsfield had visited upon first-year law students. So there I was with a briefcase full of multicolored highlighters and legal pads, a pristine course book, and every possible study aid piled on my desk as a protective shield between me and the man who was surely going to have me for breakfast.
He walked into the room precisely on time, perfect military posture, snow-white hair, and meticulously dressed. It seemed he stood eight feet, four inches tall--and that was before he climbed the raised podium. To us, he was the law.
As one of the founders and a financial backer of the International School of Law, Judge Condon had proclaimed that he would hold classes in his home to make sure we graduated. He made that commitment at the time when the school was about to shut its doors, just moments before George Mason University miraculously came to the rescue, providing legitimacy and a reputation of educational excellence. George Mason gave us respect and the yellow brick road to accreditation.
There is not one member of my firm, my family, or my friends who has not heard me speak about Judge Condon. The judge, a tough love professor, reveled in his condescending role and thoroughly enjoyed watching us sweat as we "morphed" into lawyers. He challenged us, yelled at us, engaged us in unending Socratic discourse, and once even walked out of the lecture because too many of us were unprepared, declaring that we did not deserve to be lawyers. He motivated us to get through hundreds of pages of case law and instilled in us a need for his praise. He was misunderstood by some, feared by many, but respected by all. The judge, as he required us to address him, was unwavering in his support of our dream of becoming lawyers.
And for those who were fortunate enough to come to know him, we learned that he was a warm and deeply sensitive man, whose contagious love of the law is to this day an inspiration. At graduation, without prodding, he walked up to my mother and thanked her, of all things, for allowing him to teach me. He was a class act.
Harry Jay Levin earned his J.D. in 1980 and is now an attorney at the firm of Levin and Cyphers, attorneys at law with offices in Toms River, Atlantic City, and Wall, New Jersey.
Do you fondly remember certain places within the George Mason community that exemplified the "college experience"? Were you befriended by a mentor or professor at George Mason who influenced your life? If so, tell us about it. Send your submission to Alumni Affairs, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3B3, Fairfax, Virginia 22030-4444. Please keep submissions to a maximum of 500 words.