So I just finished the first draft of my personal statement. Anyone interested in reading it? Just curious if it reads a little less boring than most. I was a wild youth and have a lot to explain. Just trying to demonstrate I have lived and learned. Thanks.
I sat under fluorescent lighting in a sparsely furnished room, unable to escape the stench of burning coffee mixed with sweat and the smoke shaded breath of ten people twice my age. I listened to the stories of adults in their forties, fifties, and even sixties in one case, who had also been caught drinking and driving. For some of them it was their third DUI in as many years, a felony offense. As I scanned the walls of the room that displayed children’s drawings, laminated cursive learning charts, and Mrs. Whitehall’s “Golden Rules,” I found myself considering the juxtaposition of a classroom usually enveloped in the laughs of children with the lamentations of the fully matured members of my ASAP group. The children with their entire lives in front of them, opportunities abound, while these individuals were at the end of theirs with few prospects. It comforted me to think of them as figures unable to escape the trappings of poverty and its ugly mistress, alcoholism. This allowed me to distance myself from their experiences. I was not like them. Sure, I was in trouble, but at only twenty-one, eventually the advantages afforded me in life would provide a path. I just had to hold on long enough for them to appear.
Half way through the meeting an older gentleman rose. He stood there without speaking. The abiding silence was magnetic, drawing me away from my thoughts. He was looking at me. In a gravelly voice, Ju, as he called himself, began speaking. He correctly guessed this was my “first time on the ride.” Ju touched on his youth paralleling it to my current situation. He remembered well being twenty and stupid with a contempt for authority to rival Victor Hugo’s Gavroche. He also remembers the consequences such an attitude carried. Like me, he once viewed these meetings as a waste of time. Born into a successful family, he neglected his studies early on. He dropped out of college and floundered well into his early thirties. Impulsive behavior and excessive drinking kept him on the wrong side of the law for over forty years. Now well into his sixties, Ju’s choices had cost him his job, his home, his family, and ultimately a functioning liver.
There was no defining moment of epiphany. However, in time, Ju’s story took its intended effect. From that experience, I gained humility. Ju’s lessons taught me that we are all accountable for our actions, be it from the law or our own body. At the time, I could not see that my behavior was endangering others, and further closing the door on my future. Law endures because it brings order to the chaos that is existence. It seeks to protect society, in my case, from the unintended consequences of impulsive and reckless behavior. I truly regret the mistakes I made throughout my educational career and the inescapable effect they will have on my chances of getting into law school. However, I am forever a better man because of them. The individuals surrounding me in that classroom had surrendered control over their lives to the degenerative force of defeatism.
The attitude we adopt ultimately decides how we progress through life. As Henry Ford said it, “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.” Their example illustrated that success is not given, rather earned. I have to command my own life, creating opportunities with calculation and diligent work. Well into middle age, they were still making excuses for their situation and repeating the same mistakes. I was not going to allow myself the luxury of defeat. Twelve months after Ju’s anecdote I returned to college reinvigorated and ready to succeed. Maturity enabled me to take on the expenses myself, sometimes working two jobs and as many as fifty hours a week. Heading into graduation, I had finally developed the skills and confidence to truly excel, achieving A’s on each of my last seven courses. I have overcome the immaturity of my youth and worked toward correcting past mistakes and missed opportunities. Although, going into my last two years of school, I was still unclear as to the ultimate direction of my life; my experiences with the criminal system eventually fueled my desire to pursue a career in law.
I witnessed first hand the flaws of a legal system. How could individuals like Ju, and the companions we shared during our time together, have been allowed to return with such chronicity to that room. It was, of course, a success for me, but the rate of recidivism is astounding. Abundant research continues to tell us this is true of crime in general. If we employed early, effective means to rehabilitate, Ju may have exited his twenties with the possibility of leading a meaningful life. Instead, the same tired, passive techniques of preaching teetotalism and “think before you act” did nothing to affect change. I hope to combine a law degree with my background in psychology in overcoming the most trenchant problems facing legal reform. Over the course of a life this may include working in legal clinics with the disenfranchised or shaping public policy with politicians in state and local governments.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Northeastern is it’s cooperative legal education program. This provides the perfect opportunity to experience a number of avenues by which to accomplish my legal and humanitarian goals. Rather than spend my time as a law student solely focused on academic pursuits, I can work for such varied agencies as the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. This type of hands on experience will allow me to tailor my course of study towards a path that will complement both my goals and my personality. I will graduate with focus and direction. My experiences have developed in me a deep and lasting empathy for the individual and the hardships we all face. As Ju taught me, no matter how low or high our birth, to err is human, and we can all find ourselves in Mrs. Whitehall’s classroom. To avoid this, we must develop at the top, laws, and at the bottom, programs, that reflect understanding, patience, sincerity, and forgiveness.
When I began the arduous task of deciding exactly what I should include in my personal statement, I drafted a number of the status quo essays. I thought it was wise to heed the advice of law school columnists and focus on the positive, not alluding to my weaknesses. Each topic was more pretentious and self indulgent than the last. They read like the diary of a fifteen-year-old, as though I was a man with nothing to recant or even abate. The more authentic prose and hopefully the more interesting narrative, involved shedding the superficial and embracing the genuine. This required me to address the culminating event in a period defined by an apathetic and whimsical mien. It was the individuals I encountered during my struggle and the subsequent personal reflection that helped me grow up. The way in which I approach my time at law school and legal career will ultimately reflect these experiences.