I announced this on Facebook a few weeks ago, but I wanted to provide some context to my decision. As I announced, I will attend law school at the American University Washington College of Law beginning in the fall of 2015. Yes, this does mean that I am moving back to Washington, DC!
Going to law school was a big decision and one that I agonized over for months primarily due to the expense and whether or not I was ready to go back to school. But I ultimately decided that I felt called to go to law school. So I want to share the story of that call with you. I stole this idea from a friend, but I pasted my admission essay below. Hopefully this essay will give everyone a little insight into my crazy idea (albeit a good one) to become an attorney!
“I never dreamt about becoming an attorney growing up. I dreamt about doing something important, but not necessarily by becoming an attorney. I graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA feeling a little lost and needing some time to find out what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I yearned to work with communities to radically change social conditions, but I did not know how or in what capacity. Along with my “next” steps, I wanted to discover how I could transform my passion for social justice into a career path. I applied for the Mission Intern Program of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, a three-year mission program focused on social justice and faith. The Mission Intern Program assigns individuals to a community or faith-based nonprofit organization for two separate 18-month periods, one internationally and one in a domestic setting. In the middle of my first 18-month placement in Hong Kong, I discovered my motivation to apply for law school.
I developed a need to help others as a youth in my church, Mount Olivet United Methodist Church, in Arlington, Virginia. An initial desire to help people was nurtured into a passion for justice, equality and equity for everyone. As I teenager, I participated in dozens of small mission and outreach projects, and spent a week each summer volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I built homes in urban communities such as Scranton, PA and rural communities such as Garret County, MD. I participated in one event to raise awareness about world hunger, and the woman leading the event told the group that many children in Africa had never before eaten ice cream. As a child of 11, I remember feeling amazed by this anecdote. How was it possible that a child, someone like me, had never eaten ice cream? Never eating ice cream seemed like a grave injustice to my middle-school self. As my involvement in youth group continued, I began to observe more grave injustices in our society today.
My participation in youth group led to me becoming involved in positions of leadership. In my junior year of high school, I became co-chair of the youth council and continued in this position as a senior. The youth council planned all youth events and regular programming with assistance from church members and staff. As a high school senior, I continued in this position which included facilitating meetings, and acting as a representative of the youth to the larger church. As a leader in the youth group, I encouraged youth involvement in outreach and mission projects, and assisted with fundraising and planning for these events.
As I became more aware of social justice issues through my church, I became more focused on and passionate about women’s rights in particular. My focus on women’s rights began with my mother who shared with me dozens of challenges that she faced trying to raise three kids as a single, working mother. In one instance, she fought for child support for my half brother and sister, but did not receive a resolution until her case appeared before a female judge. My mother also encouraged me to apply to women’s colleges after experiencing the benefits of a single-sex education as an adult at a weekend college for women. Through coursework, conversations with my peers and special events, my experience at Smith College broadened my understanding of the forms of discrimination and violence faced by women around the world.
I chose to apply to the Mission Intern Program to gain the opportunity to develop my understanding of injustice and systems of oppression and privilege by working directly with communities affected by various forms of injustice. I was placed me in Hong Kong for the first 18 months of my three-years of service at the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM). APMM organizes migrants throughout the Asia-Pacific region and advocates for people-centered migration policies. I worked very closely with Indonesian and Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong and spent every Sunday with them. We ate together, chatted, danced and participated in social and awareness-raising events. I became friends with one woman who was raped by her employer. Ten months later, her case finally progressed to the trial, and she asked me attend the trial for moral support. As I sat through the trial, my anger and frustration increased with each passing day. I watched as she testified for ten days in front of jury, was cross-examined by the defense attorney, and repeatedly asked to re-live every moment of her attack. At the end of the ordeal, the jury acquitted the defendant. She later said that she felt as though she won because she felt empowered to speak out against what happened to her.
Sitting in that courtroom, I felt the pieces click into place as to why I needed to go to law school. My role at APMM involved primarily research, editing, and writing for the general advocacy work of the organization. I understood the need for advocacy in order to change oppressive systems and policies, but I felt disconnected from the individuals. I felt powerless to help someone who called asking for advice. I felt the most joy and empowerment during the Sundays and other days that I spent with the domestic workers. I wanted to experience direct service to clients in addition to advocating for systemic change, and I realized that becoming an attorney will allow me to experience this dual role.
The Mission Intern Program placed me with the Workers Defense Project (WDP) in Dallas, TX for my second 18-month assignment as a Workers Rights Advocate. In this role, I assist low-wage workers with recovering unpaid wages and resolving other employment-related violations. I help workers file complaints at the Department of Labor or the Texas Workforce Commission, submit petitions in small claims court, negotiate with employers, and draft affidavits and demand letters. Most of my job involves explaining legal processes associated with wage claims to low-wage workers who are primarily under-educated and not fluent in English. I routinely feel energized and excited through my work with clients at WDP. However, I also feel despondent every time that the worker fails to recover his or her wages.
Attending law school will enable me to became an advocate for individuals and communities and I want to attend American University, Washington College of Law to achieve that goal.” (I then conclude with why I wanted to attend AU in particular).
So, hopefully this essay gives each of you some insight into my decision. And no, I’m not becoming an attorney to make a lot of money but rather to give me the skills necessary to keep doing the work with peoples and communities that I love.