Law school gave me the second chance I needed

How a shift in attitude helped me find social balance

Oliver reflects on his past life.

The summer before high school, my family moved from North York to Richmond Hill. Though I didn’t have any friends in middle school, I missed my old classmates. As my peers continued onto high school together, I felt heartsick for familiarity.

I regretted not making friends or joining extracurriculars in middle school. But I had a fresh start, in a new town, at the same high school as my best friend. I promised myself I would make the most of it.

Though I made friends and joined clubs in high school, I struggled with social cues and judgment. My friends and I speculate that I have autism spectrum disorder, but I never sought a formal diagnosis because it wouldn’t change my coping strategies. I had friends who knew I didn’t mean any ill and tried to teach me appropriate behaviour, but over the years, I wore many of them down until they had enough and cut me out of their lives.

I made fewer faux pas over time, but having lost so many people in my life, I felt increasing anxiety about making missteps in almost every social interaction. I would dwell on things I said after the fact, wishing I used a different word or kept a thought to myself.

My struggles continued in my undergrad at University of Toronto, where I majored in criminology and international relations. It usually takes time—months, even years—for me to develop close friendships, and by my second year, I’d finally grown closer to a few students in my programs.

Then, the pandemic hit.

With lockdowns and online classes, I drifted apart from my pre-pandemic social circle. I was grateful to make one new close friend at U of T during the pandemic, but despite having her, I felt lonely for not having more when I returned to campus for my fourth year.

I had long struggled with insecurity in my friendships and dissatisfaction about my social life and other achievements, but my fourth year brought my lowest points. It seemed—largely thanks to social media—everyone else had more friends, more experiences, and was more successful at maintaining bonds during the pandemic. I was usually the one taking the initiative to connect and make plans with others, and I wished for reciprocity.

I was especially distraught because I’d already promised myself years ago to make the most of social opportunities. In fourth year, I prioritized making additional friends and memories as much as possible before graduation—all at the expense of my academics. When my GPA eventually risked a significant drop, I resigned from one of my part-time jobs, sought health and wellness counselling, and begged for mercy and extensions from professors.

I sacrificed my schoolwork for little gain. That said, by year’s end, there were two other students who became among my closest companions. Unlike my other attempts to make friends, these two friendships grew organically and reciprocally, prompting me to reflect on all my relationships.

One regret comes from my decision to drop my French minor when I was just a few months away from graduation, simply to pursue friendships. Though I was reluctant to let it go so close to the end, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put in the time needed to salvage my grades in all my courses.

In hindsight, I know it was wrong to neglect my coursework and I regret being overwhelmed by my most immediate sorrows. However, I knew a fresh start waited for me when I started law school at Queen’s.

Though I was hesitant to get involved at Queen’s, I convinced myself to try look for opportunities. I made some acquaintances in my first year of law school, but I had yet to lay down the social roots I’d hoped for.

This summer, I attended the Queen’s international law program at Bader College in England. It was my first time in Europe, and I figured the intimate castle environment would be great for meeting new people. With two weeks left in the program, I had yet to make any connections. There were many students from different universities who had formed a group, and they explored the UK and Europe together beyond the classroom.

Looking in from afar, I wished I shared in their moments, but I was reminded it was more important to visit the places in Europe I wanted to see, even if it meant travelling alone.

Luckily, things turned around before I left.

After a chance conversation with a Bader classmate, I joined her and her friends on a weekend trip to Edinburgh, where she previously went on exchange. We climbed Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, did an underground ghost tour, visited the National Museum of Scotland, and celebrated her birthday with high tea.

The Scotland trip taught me things can get better. The trip introduced me to what has become my closest group at Queen’s. We hang out regularly, and together we revitalized a previously neglected student club. Besides them, I’ve joined some other extracurriculars and made a few other friends at Queen’s this year. After reconnecting with some people outside of Queen’s, I’m now friends or on good terms with everyone from my past that I care about.

Looking back, I can’t believe I let my worries consume all aspects of my life. It’s quite possible that if I didn’t go to Scotland, I would feel quite differently about law school right now. But for the first time since grade eight, I feel satisfied with my friendships and experiences, and I’m achieving that while keeping on top of schoolwork.

I still make mistakes and feel sad sometimes. But I hope to keep all the people I now have and continue to grow the social and professional aspects of my life in a much healthier way.

Though I wish I fixed things earlier, what matters now is moving forward and balancing all aspects of my life.


Friendships, Law school, pandemic

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