Only in an exceptional group could Bill Meissner be called average. An honors graduate of Yale, a Fulbright scholar and a linguist, he has the credentials for any graduate school, any profession or a rigorous career. At the same time he stands at the median of this year’s first-year class. His high school and college work were outstanding. He comes to Stanford with recommendations similar to those of most of his classmates: “brilliant,” “incisive,” “one of the top two or three students I have had in class in my ten years of teaching,” “an unquestionably fine candidate for law school.” His score on the Law School Admissions Test, which is taken by every prospective law school student, stands near his class’ median of 683 out of a possible 800. At Yale he earned well over a “B” average, with highest honors in his field of specialization, Latin American studies. He entered Stanford, then, as a fairly typical member of his class.
They number 150 coming from fifty-one colleges and universities in thirty-two states. As undergraduates they pursued many and various kinds of knowledge, though two-thirds of them majored in history, political science or economics. Almost without exception they were dean’s list or honor students; twenty-one were elected to Phi Beta Kappa and seventy-two graduated with special honors; nearly all were involved in the larger life of their university and their community. Over half of them served as president or chairman of at least one student organization and one-third were on a varsity team. Fifty-seven members of the class attend Stanford Law School on some form of scholarship. Sixty-one have loans.
It is into this group that Bill Meissner fits as an “average” student. Bill was born and raised in Boston. During high school he accompanied his physician father to Mexico and other parts of Latin America on several occasions and there developed an interest in the people and culture of Latin America. Primarily because of this interest he chose to do his undergraduate studies at Yale, because of Yale’s unusually strong Latin American studies department. He learned Portuguese and took advanced Spanish. Extracurricular interests included gymnastics and dramatics. In the summer after his sophomore year he worked in Brazil as part of a group sponsored by the Princeton romance language department. As an employee of the Banco Lar Brasileiro, a subsidiary of the Chase Manhattan Bank in Rio, he helped to reorganize the personnel system and did market research. As a result of this summer project his interest began to center more and more on economic development.
In his senior year at Yale, Bill organized a three-day guest-in-residence program hosting Juscelino Kubitschek, ex-President of Brazil. By then he was convinced that his future would somehow be devoted to economic development in Latin America. In considering graduate study, Bill faced a decision between studying economics and studying law. He applied for admission to graduate study in economics at Chicago, Michigan, Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. Among law schools, and in this respect Bill Meissner is not typical of the majority of his classmates, he applied to Stanford alone.
Bill was drawn to law study by the desire for a comprehensive education in how to think. More, he came to consider the professional opportunities in Brazil far more rewarding to the individual with a law degree and one or two years of practice than to one with an advanced degree in economics. He chose Stanford after hearing Professor William Baxter and Assistant Dean Thomas Robinson speak at Yale during his senior year. He was further encouraged by his counselor by the head of the department of Latin American studies and by friends at Stanford, especially Bill Lake ’68 and Jim Atwood ’69 of the Law School.
Bill’s entrance to Stanford Law School was deferred for a year after he applied for and received a Fulbright grant to work and study in Brazil. For the first semester he took courses at the University of São Paulo in calculus, economic policy and the economic history and price system of Brazil. During the remainder of the year he worked for the Office of Applied Economic Research in the Ministry of Planning. He did research and planning, reviewed development plans and worked with a senior staff member on articles. His leisure time allowed for travel to the poverty-ridden northeastern section of Brazil and for travel on the Amazon. During the year he also met and married his wife Maria Tereza, who now works at the Stanford School of Medicine.
After one semester of law study Bill feels sure that he has chosen wisely in electing to study law. His most difficult adjustment so far has been getting used to an atmosphere in which nearly every other student has ability and academic credentials equal to his own. He has not yet become comfortable in the classroom where, as he explains it, a student is called upon to argue with some logic about specific cases of law without having mastered the basics of the law in general.
In one respect Bill is not at all typical. By far the greatest number of recent graduates of the Law School devote themselves to the practice of law in the United States and while as first-year students, the members of the Class of 1970 have not yet settled their career objectives it is likely that most of them will follow the same course. In Bill’s case however, the combination of his undergraduate studies and his experiences in Latin America with an education in the law will ultimately lead to a career outside the United States. In all likelihood he will practice law in the United States for a couple of years after graduation and then begin working in Brazil possibly for a government office like the United States Agency for International Development.
Still, as much as anyone can be called representative, Bill is a reflection of the background and experiences of the first-year class. And, with the majority of the Class of 1970, he faces the problem of the draft. Under current regulations, eighty percent of the Class of 1970 may be forced to suspend their legal studies to fulfill their military obligations. Bill faces both the uncertainty of the moment and the prospect of military duty with equanimity. Although he believes that it would be difficult to resume law study after such an interruption, he seems fairly sure that he would nevertheless return to Stanford to complete his degree.