Over the past week, scores of articles have been published on various aspects of Amy Coney Barrett’s character—her fitness as a judicial nominee, her acumen as a scholar, and her unapologetic commitment to the Catholic faith. But long before I had reason to consider any of these qualities, I thought of Judge Barrett simply as an answer to my prayers.
I arrived at Notre Dame in 2013. Like any new law student, my head swirled with hopes, thoughts, dreams, and fears. But unlike many other students, I also needed to singlehandedly ensure that I had access to the tools and technologies necessary for me to succeed as a completely blind person.
Unfortunately, things got off to a bumpy start. The assistive technology purchased by the university, which would have allowed me to compete on equal footing with my sighted peers, did not arrive on time. And, in keeping with Murphy’s law, my personal laptop immediately broke, leaving me overnight with no reliable way to access my texts, take notes, or otherwise keep pace in class. I needed help, and I needed it fast.
For that help, I turned to then-professor Barrett. Although I had known her for only two weeks, I felt confident that this poised, articulate woman would not dismiss my concerns and would counsel me on how to get the university to procure the needed assistive technology as quickly as possible.
But she did not merely help me to readjust the burden on my own shoulders; she took it from me and carried it herself. I will never forget the moment when she looked at me from across her desk and said, coolly and matter-of-factly, “Laura, this is not your problem anymore. It’s mine.”
To many, this might seem like an insignificant gesture. After all, how hard could it be for a law professor to send a few follow-up emails and make a few phone calls? But as a person with a disability, as someone who is accustomed to the oftentimes solo and always thankless task of self-advocacy, I was caught off guard. Her unsolicited words were balm to my soul. The rarity of the offer was enough to impress me, but the sincerity and conviction with which she spoke indicated that she would not let me down. She proved, as I knew she would, to be a woman of her word.
Three years into our mentorship, during my last semester of law school, I once again found myself at Professor Barrett’s office door. We had planned to talk about my fledgling plans to apply to clerk for a Supreme Court justice. But I had other, more sobering news to share. A recent minor health scare meant that my last semester of law school would instead be spent undergoing and recovering from multiple eye surgeries. This threatened to jeopardize the grades I would need to pursue my dream.
But it also raised deeper—and far more important—questions about one’s place in the world, the meaning of suffering, and how to face the unknown. Professor Barrett wanted to hear it all. She gave me the space to cry my tears and run through all the “what ifs,” allowing me to stay until I once again felt ready to face the challenges ahead.
I went on to succeed that semester and, by God’s grace, to become the first blind woman to clerk on the Supreme Court. The warmth and compassion that Judge Barrett has shown me on so many occasions flow from the same wellspring of faith for which she is now so excoriated. The ease with which she donates her time and energy to serving others comes from years of loving the Lord with her entire heart, mind, and strength, and loving her neighbor as herself. And for a young, disabled woman like me struggling to find my footing and place in this world, that faith has made all the difference.
Laura Wolk is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame Law School.
Image via CSPAN.
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