Remembering a Friend

I recently watched a tribute video to an old friend who died around a year ago.  I met this man in law school.  He taught moot court, and I was in his class.  After I saw the tribute video, I wanted to write down a few thoughts about him, and I ended up writing quite a bit.  As a tribute to him, I want to share with you what I wrote last night.  There is actually a great lesson in this brief memory, and I plan to write more about it in the future.  In fact, this situation in my life inspired to write about reinvention.  I kept a lot of the spontaneous comments in the story, so you could hopefully feel the emotion that I felt as I wrote.   

I hope this brief encounter with Matt Davis encourages you to remember loved ones lost, and to cherish the short time that we have.  As Matt would say, “Go hug your kids.”

The Memory

Matt Davis was one of my professors in law school.  He was awesome.  I have a bunch of really good memories of him, but I thought I would share one that puts a smile on my face often.  I am smiling right now as I think about it.

Matt taught the moot court class that I took during my second year of law school.  My best (and favorite) memory of Matt is from the last day of our moot court competition.  He was always so supportive and excited to talk about the issues.  However, I did not want to take moot court as a class.  The prior year I participated in the first-year competition, and my awesome partner (David Williams) and I made it to the semifinals.  I really thought we were going to win.  But we lost in the semifinal round.  I was crushed.  I remember sitting in the parking lot afterward talking with Dave for probably two hours after we lost.  I was absolutely crushed.  All I could think about was what we could have changed.  I did not have many answers but I did tell myself that I would probably never do moot court again.

Something did change, obviously.  I enrolled in the course the following year, and I was blessed to be taught by Matt.  The gulp of defeat stuck with me, and I really wanted to win the competition.  I think I stayed after class every single week to talk with Matt about the issues and my issue specifically.  Matt was always excited to stay and chat.  We talked about the case, about sports, about life, about family… it was great.

I think that Matt quickly realized that I thought a little different about the case and about the issues than the other students.  I probed every angle.  I tried to come up with arguments that no one would consider.  I remember one conversation that another student and I were having in class.  The other student thought my argument would not work.  I was not sure, but I thought it was worth at least exploring and researching.  Matt slowly walked over and listened for a few minutes without saying anything.  After our conversation finished, Matt came up to me and said that he had never heard my idea before, but he thought I should look into it.  He offered to discuss it the next week if I would do some research on it.

Well, I did research the idea, and it ended up being one of the strongest arguments in my brief and oral argument.

Now here’s the memory.  And here’s why I smile just thinking about it.  The last part of the class is a full-fledged moot court competition where all of the students taking the class for that term compete with each other in oral arguments over the case that we had all been researching and working on all term.  I think there were over 100 students in the competition (I could be exaggerating the number, but it’s my memory, so let’s go with it).  My partner and I ended up doing really well, and we actually made it to the final round of the competition: two teams, four people, and two would be the winners for the entire term.

I think you are going to win

I remember Matt walking up to me in private before the final round.  I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he made a comment similar to “You look eerily calm.”  The truth was that I was focused.  I really wanted to win, but I finally figured out why Dave and I did not win the year before (at least from my point of view).  A year earlier, I told Matt, I was trying to beat the other team.  And it caused me to lose track of my emotions when I was presenting my oral argument (I said to a judge: “You’re missing the point” – horrible, bad, and ugly all around – don’t do that in court, FYI).  I told Matt that this year I was not competing with the other team, or the judges, or anyone else in the room.  I was actually on the same side as the other team, the same side as the judges, and we were all trying to arrive at the right answer.  That was the shift in my attitude.  Matt just looked at me without saying anything for a moment, and then he said, “I think you are going to win.”  I was a little taken aback, and I just said “Really?”  I remember him following up with, “You got this. You totally got this.”  But then he told me to remember one thing: no one else’s argument matters.  Just yours.  No matter how good or bad anyone else is, you got this.  And then he said that my partner and I have to win because his students always win the competition (I never verified that, but I would not be surprised).  I laughed at his comment, but he did not.  He said, “Hey that’s not funny, it’s true.  I have a reputation to uphold here.”

It just so happened that I was going to be the last person to present in front of the judges.  I clearly remember looking out into the audience at all of the over 100 other students watching the final round.  I saw Matt in the back and to my left.  My actual presentation is pretty foggy in my memory.  I remember thinking that the two opponents (who happened to be my friends) were really good.  I remember noticing that the judges seemed to really buy into their arguments.  And I remember that the judges really attacked my partner.  It seemed as if they challenged everything he said.  Right before I went up, I started to think that there might not be a chance that my team could even win.  I felt all of the weight of our entire team on my shoulders.  Matt’s words echoed back… just think about doing my personal best oral argument. 

I do not remember much about what I said.  But one memory is absolutely clear.  I spoke for 15 or 20 minutes straight, and then I said thank you, your honor.  Then I calmly, and slowly, walked back to the respondent’s table and I sat down – and there was Matt in the audience.  He was looking right at me.

TOUCHDOWN!

We made eye contact for a moment – and this is my favorite part.  He stood straight up, to a full stand.  The room was completely quiet as the judges were preparing to deliberate on who would be the winner.  While Matt looked directly at me, he had a smile on his face.  He was nodding his head up and down with a furrowed chin like he knew this was going to happen.  Then he put both of his hands straight up in the air while he was standing and nodding and silently mouthed “TOUCHDOWN!” while he was looking right at me.  I remember not breaking a smile to the rest of the world around me at that moment.  I was so in character that I was not going to let any of the judges see my appearance as anything less than completely professional and deferential.  But inside, wow… I felt a rush of satisfaction and joy and yes, a huge smile.  I remembered all of the long conversations with Matt about the issues and the arguments with some of the other students.  I will never forget Matt’s raised arms, nodding head, and his silent TOUCHDOWN cheer.

As soon as the judges left the room, Matt darted over to me.  He must have been one of the first people to come over to talk with me.  He walked up and said, “That was the best oral argument I have ever seen.  Hands down.”  He was so happy.  I will never forget that moment.  And the mouthed “touchdown” with two hands in the air… awesome memory.

To finish the story, the judges came back quietly and calmly.  My partner and I were declared the winners.  Matt’s team had won, yet again.  I was chosen as the best overall advocate for the entire class, and the best overall advocate in the final round of the four finalists.  But my favorite part was the touchdown from Matt.  Awesome awesome awesome memory.  Thanks Matt, for that, always.

The Smile

I did not intend to write this much (and to this late hour of the night), but I have had a smile on my face the entire time writing this, so I think I just did not want to stop the smile.

I kept in touch with Matt after the class was over.  We saw each other at social events in Lansing over the next few years, and Matt was always more than gracious.  He was always giving advice and sharing his perspective and knowledge.  He became a friend, and I am honored to be one of his students and one of his friends.  I do miss Matt, but I would like to thank him for the smile that he has put on my face tonight… great memory, great man.  

Great memory, great man

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Let me know what you think in the comments!

  • Chris Silker

    Heartfelt tributes about a person are forever uplifting, they highlight that which we so often take for granted in our lives, people are awesome!

    • John Mashni

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Chris!