Admissions chief Natalie Blazer ’08 discusses what makes UVA Law special and the importance of leaning into difficult conversations. She spoke as part of the Class of 2026 orientation.
NATALIE BLAZER: It's your first day of orientation. How was everyone's summer?
NATALIE BLAZER: Good, good. Anyone read the newspaper over the summer?
[STUDENTS RESPONDING INDISTINCTLY]
OK. So you might have seen some headlines about admissions a little here and there.
Well, so reading all of those articles, it struck me that the whole world figured out for the first time that admissions is a complex process. It's actually really, really hard. It's a lot of different variables. You can't really quantify it.
I mean, it could be easy if all we cared about was bringing in 300 smart, hardworking people who want to be at Virginia. 300 smart, hardworking people who want to be at Virginia, we could have five auditoriums filled with those people. I could be done with my job by Thanksgiving break.
But we care about so much more than that, of course. You have to be smart and hard-working to get into law school. But to get into Virginia Law, you have to be so much more than that. And that more, it's so, like I said, intangible, so vast, so complex. It's because we're trying to create a community made up of a million different things and a million little moments that make Virginia Law special.
It's this moment right now, as Dean Goluboff said, Class of 2026 all together in the same room for the first time. I can't tell you how rewarding it is that I get to lay my eyes on you right now. It's two weeks from now when a faculty member who's been here 35 years is going to make a point to stop me in the hallway and say, this is my favorite group of students I've ever had in all my time here.
It's four weeks from now when a group of you are going to come barging into my office in your cleats and your jerseys, with huge smiles on your faces, to tell me that you just won your first softball game. It's four months from now, when I'm going to be proctoring your fall semester final exams-- sorry, four months from now--
But I'm going to see you giving each other high fives and pep talks and hugs and sharing your candy, which I can't believe you eat that early in the morning.
Those moments and so many more just like it make this very hard job worth it. So why am I telling you how hard this job is? I should be talking about all of you, right? Well, it's because that you are going to acutely feel the benefits of us in admissions doing the harder version, going above and beyond smart and hard working. You're going to feel that every single day in all the people around you.
You didn't come here because you don't want to work hard, right? You didn't get here, in the first place, by not working hard. So what does it mean, now that you're here?
Well, in general, it means being OK when you're uncomfortable. It means welcoming and staying in some unpleasant moments. This weekend, when you start reading for class next week-- sorry, it's coming-- you're going to get to a case you don't understand. I guarantee it.
What's the easy thing to do in that situation? Stop reading. Turn on Netflix. Close the book, or close the browser on your computer, or close the app on your phone, however you read cases now. While you have that laptop or that phone, why not just ask the internet to tell you what the case means, right? That's easy. That's what people do now, right? Just ask the internet.
What if you kept your eyes on the page, on the screen, and you just thought about it a little bit harder? And use your brain. And I promise you, those flashes of understanding are going to come. And that's what this is all about.
Now, of course you're going to want to seek help. You are. We want you to, but from the right sources. And that brings me to my next hard moment.
Your brilliant classmates, they're going to talk in class. And you're going to be like, everyone here is smarter than me. That's good. That's a good thing. You want people here smarter than you are.
The moment you walked into this building marked the end of the time in your life you're the smartest person in the room. So just mourn that period, moment of silence for being the smartest person in the room. It's over. OK?
The next time you feel like the people around you are smarter than you are, that's not the time to shrink down in your seat or zone out or feel like don't belong here. That's the time to pay attention, take notes, and learn. So there's a hard moment of not understanding what you're learning as a 1L, guaranteed. There's the uncomfortable moment of realizing people around you are smarter than you are, also guaranteed.
Now let's get to the real hard and uncomfortable moment, when someone says something you don't agree with or you don't like, not something small, something really big, something that feels like it's attacking who you are at your core. The easy thing to do in that situation is say, that person shouldn't be here. That person, that idea, I don't like it. That person should go away.
Because it's opposed to what you believe? The easy thing to do is dismiss that idea or even worse, that person entirely, to walk away from them, go back to hanging out with people who think exactly like you, easy, comfortable. But what happens if you stay with that person and that idea, and you really listen, listen while you're actively feeling all those uncomfortable, angry, upset feelings?
The person who puts the case book down or asks the internet to tell them what to do is looking for the easy way out. The person who doesn't listen is the person who thinks they already know everything. And the person who seeks to silence another speaker is the person who thinks their voice is more worthy than another's.
This is Virginia Law, and we're not afraid of feeling uncomfortable and doing things the hard way. Now, I know that the last year or so, I have been the administrator here, who gets to tell you that one magical word over and over again, yes. Yes, you are admitted. Yes, you are so special. Yes, you are amazing. Yes, you can have that travel stipend.
Well, at the risk of breaking our very special bond on your first day, no less, I have to tell you, no. No, you don't everything, which is the point, right? That's why you're in law school. No, your voice is not more important than anyone else's.
When opposing counsel gets up and gives their opening statement, are you going to stand up and say, your Honor, opposing counsel is making me really uncomfortable right now.
They really shouldn't be here. No, you are going to stay in that chair. And more than that, you are going to hang on every word opposing counsel is saying so that you can understand the other side. And as a Virginia-trained lawyer, you are then going to use that understanding and your own brain to come up with an even better argument and then crush them with it.
I'm sorry if it wasn't made clear before you paid your tuition to law school. But being a lawyer is about disagreeing all the time, but respectfully and with the goal of understanding. And that's what we teach you how to do here at Virginia. Disagreement isn't bad. Disagreement is the whole point.
But it's how you disagree, the way in which you disagree, that makes a difference between a good and a great lawyer. Does that mean you need to everyone here? No, of course not. But remember, I did my job the hard way and admitted 300 smart, hard-working, but also, kind, funny, interesting, compassionate people who are surrounding you right now. You are welcome.
They're not all going to be your best friend, but some of them will. Some of them might be more than a friend.
But every single one of them is going to have something to teach you. So as you go forth into these next three years, when things feel hard, which they will-- it's a guarantee-- that is not a sign to doubt yourself or your place here. That is proof that you are doing law school right.
Rather than give up when things get hard, dig in when things get hard. And remember that you're all here for a reason. That reason is to be a Virginia lawyer. A Virginia lawyer listens, respects others, uses their own brain, works dang hard, and then crushes the opposition. So congratulations on all the hard work that got you here and the very hard work yet to come. Welcome to Virginia, y'all.