Your life’s happiness depends on you
I attended the same high school military academy, like my father and brother. I graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis. As an ensign, I navigated a jet aircraft for more than a year, and then navigated 300 marines to Vietnam. Just before I entered Vietnam as a conservative naval officer, I had an awakening of conscience at Berkeley.
I was confronted by a high school friend who was in his third year of law school at Berkeley. He and a few other graduate history students asked why American troops were fighting in Vietnam. I argued that they were propagandized by the left. But the students knew their history, tore to shreds the “facts” I had learned, and convinced me to read the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings. This is where I began to learn the truth. The process awakened me.
What made you decide to finally realize your lifelong dream?
After concluding my military commitment, I resigned, quit my military path and marched for peace. I earned a law degree, becoming a peace activist. Inspired to battle for civil rights, I became an ACLU attorney for Cesar Chavez’s farm workers against some of America’s most powerful forces.
What were the specific obstacles that you faced?
I wasn’t very articulate, didn’t know how to stand up on my feet and argue, and lacked confidence. Yet I learned how through applying myself and being motivated by helping the poor and powerless. My education was thorough and solid. Hastings College of Law was very tough. I studied vigorously. The bar exam is one of the toughest exams in the US. I didn’t pass it the first time. I thought that maybe I wasn’t good enough.
What helped you get through them?
I was raised as a Christian. I developed a sense of ethics from reading the Bible, my parents and my grandmother, a theosophist, musician, poet, nature lover, and story teller. However, as a pre-ministerial student at Duke, I came to respect all religions who taught love as a guiding principle; not religious dogma each sect maintains as truth. The Bible tells us to feed the poor. The Jesus I responded to was what I learned it from my mother, grandmother. And my studies. I decided I could not preach and went to the Naval Academy because my father could not afford Duke and he had graduated there, as did my brother. They taught a rigid ethical program to build military officers. Naval aviation and Vietnam changed my mind about my future when I realized how I was trained to do violence I did not want to, nor did, participate in. Finding a way to help people through enforcing their civil rights gave my life meaning it did not have before.
Were there people who tried to discourage you?
Many did at the Naval Academy but there I learned to work diligently to improve, discipline, and determination. The idea of being able to fight for justice inspired me because I could fight for poor people, and others who were having their heads busted by police.
How did you feel when you finally accomplished your lifelong dream?
The ending of my dream was writing a memoir about how I accomplished becoming a civil rights lawyer, and a good father of three with a wonderful wife. I changed from a pawn in the military to a crusader for justice. Completing my memoir took six years. I took courses in creative writing from authors, poets, and professors. My memoir, All the Difference, explores the obstacles along my path and how I overcame them.
What advice would you give to others that are contemplating finally living their dream?
Whatever your dream, I recommend that you follow your heart, not the advice so many are ready to give. Your life’s happiness depends on you, and what determination drives you. For me, the idea of pursuing justice for the poor and powerless gave me great inspiration that led to my career and writing a book that shows how I handled adversity and succeeded in fulfilling my dream.
To read more about Dan Lavery and his journey, click here.