I sighed as I flipped the two hundredth page onto the scanning glass. Two hours into scanning documents and only halfway through the folder full of papers I was given, and I was about ready for my lunch break. The process was tedious: pick out all of the papers in order, take out the staples if needed, feed them into the scanner, pause the scan, scan double-sided documents with the glass, slam your head against the wall, scan some more, rinse and repeat. It was… not terribly exciting. But it was also the kind of mundane task we were doing a couple of weeks into the job.
We started with the boring stuff. There was filing and scanning and birth certificate translating to be done. However, the more we learned and the more confident we became in our environment, the more significant our work began to feel. By the end of the program, I was consistently going to Help Desk at the courthouse to do intakes, filling out motions to change venue almost single handedly, and handling live translations every day. My last week, I even filled out a Nicaraguan man’s asylum application and typed up a first draft of his affidavit.
And yet, in between each of these more momentous tasks were sprinkled many more of these smaller, duller jobs. I would find myself less and less enthusiastic with each of these less notable chores, having to remind myself that someone had to do it, and, as the interns, those duties fell to us. Even so, I couldn’t wait to move on to the next thing that made me feel as though I was actually helping people.
On the last week, our supervisor kindly held a lunch for us, even bringing homemade food for us. She gave us her thanks for all our work over the course of the eight weeks, highlighting how much we did and how far we had come from the start. The CEO also had a few words for us. He gave us an allegory to think about, expressing how even all of Van Gogh’s greatest masterpieces were made up of the smallest brush strokes. He thanked us not for our largest accomplishments, but instead for the more ordinary tasks we completed along the way. As he concluded his speech, his ending words stuck out in my mind:
“The mundane gives way to the sublime.”
He’s right. As unimportant as it felt to translate a birth certificate or look up country conditions, each piece is necessary to the larger picture– strokes that make up a painting, if you will. Perhaps it didn’t feel as though we were directly helping clients when working on tasks that felt so impersonal… but they still need it. No file would be complete without its copies, translations, research, etc. Every single job they had for us was building to a chance. Don’t get me wrong; the interns weren’t the ones doing the heavy lifting, but we helped make the process just slightly easier for the lawyers who have the ability to give that chance, that hopeful opportunity that maybe a client can rest without the fear of being sent back to a dangerous country.
Each task was a stepping stone on the incline of achieving something beautiful. This incline becomes increasingly steeper as the work the incredible people at the CCLS office do becomes increasingly harder with the current administration. I have nothing but love and respect for the lawyers and staff at the office. Although my cohort and I are leaving, this work doesn’t end. It’s important to remember that their fight continues every day, to the same extent or worse than when we were there.
As for me, I can’t say for sure that DukeEngage changed my world, as its tagline promises. I still don’t know what I want from a major, a job, or even life. I did however experience an important line of work firsthand and felt as though we contributed something rather than providing a net loss, a concern I had going into a DukeEngage program. In addition, I got to experience Miami outside of work with my cohort and see how those smaller pieces create true beauty. I see it everywhere; even something as small as a late-night walk with cohort members that have become close friends builds up bonds and relationships that last after the program’s end. I met incredible people both in the office and within my cohort, explored so much of what the city had to offer, and ate amazing food surrounded by a beautiful culture. My time in Miami will always remain unforgettable.
Truth be told, I didn’t expect to be one of those people writing sentimental farewells. I expected to show up in Miami, go to work, do my job, and come home better for it. Instead, I’ve done that and more. The city will have a special place in my heart, with memories that stick out despite being as simple as getting empanadas every morning with the CCLS boys before a long day at work. I’ll miss beautiful Miami with all of its features and experiences, mundane or not.