Learning from ‘Doing Things Scared’
Habiba Cheema, Class of 2024
On Habiba Cheema’s first day at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law, she and the other new students heard an important message from Kevin P. Oates, senior associate dean of students and administration: “We don’t make mistakes. You were meant to be here.”
Much as she respected Oates, Habiba was sure he was wrong. “I was like, ‘Oh no, not me,’” she recalls. She thought the school had indeed made a mistake—in admitting her.
A year and a half later, Habiba has come a long way. The 2L recently competed as part of Drexel Kline Law’s esteemed trial team at the national Student Trial Advocacy Competition, hosted in New Orleans by the American Association for Justice.
She no longer thinks the school made a mistake.
But getting comfortable at law school took some effort for the first-generation graduate student, whose parents emigrated from Pakistan. Her first semester was a challenge.
“To me, everything in law school feels like, just try it, and if it doesn’t go well, you now know something you didn’t know before.”
“Nobody in my family is a lawyer, so everything I learned was from the internet—and the internet’s a very scary place,” she says. “But I was like, well, I’m here—let me just try. Because then, if I’ve tried my best and it doesn’t work out, I at least have that peace of mind that I gave it a shot….So that’s what I did, first semester. I deleted all those internet apps; I found my own rhythm, my own space, and I focused on finding the fun of it….I leaned into the unique environment and I found that I actually loved it.”
Part of Habiba’s motivation has been to honor the efforts of her parents. “I always felt like, they put in all this hard work; I have this unique opportunity where I get to pursue higher education,” she says. “I really want to do something that means something.”
For Habiba, that meant law school.
“I wanted to be able to be in a place where I felt like I had a voice–that was something that I wanted to honor just based off of my parents’ hard work and effort,” she says. “And I felt like being in law school would provide me with that.”
Habiba’s goals for law school included pushing herself beyond her comfort zone and doing things that scared her. So she took the class Introduction to Trial Advocacy, in which each student litigates a full trial. “Having absolutely no mock trial experience, the idea of performing in a courtroom in front of a real judge terrified me,” she says.
But Habiba embraced the experience so fully, she ended up joining the school’s top-ranked trial team, which is part of the Drexel Kline Law Trial Advocacy Program. “I like that they encourage you to lean into your strengths and really push you to be the best version of you,” she says of the team. “No one is forced or encouraged to be something they’re not.…I feel very welcomed and valued just for being me.”
She sees the trial team as a chance for growth. “I look at it as an opportunity,” she says. “It’s so unique to be able to exercise different muscles I didn’t even know I had.”
Habiba acknowledges that competing can be scary, but she figures law school is a safe place to take risks.
“To me, everything in law school feels like, just try it, and if it doesn’t go well, you now know something you didn’t know before,” she says. “I think that mindset of not taking it super-personally and recognizing things are going to happen that are out of your control and they’re just learning experiences has allowed me to really lean into the opportunities as opposed to run away from them.”
Habiba says she is “excited to do things scared.”
“Even if something doesn’t end in success, at least I’ve tried,” she says. “I think for me, personally, even outside of law school, I just don’t want to be in the same place forever. I think as long as I’m moving, whichever path it is, that’s success. So that for me means taking risks and doing things I didn’t think I was going to do.
“I don’t know what the future holds. But that’s to me really exciting. I think if I put myself in this box, then I might not see something that I might actually really want to do, so I’m very open and I think that means leaning into the uncertainty.”