I was seven years old when I returned to Nigeria for the first time after my family’s immigration to the United States. How do you describe returning to a place that you had always called home, but had never intimately known? A place that was deeply embedded in your being, but that was simultaneously so distant? I would describe it as pivotal. Reflecting upon the trip now, I realize that it was more of an awakening than a simple homecoming. It has taken years for me to identify the feeling that electrified me as soon as the plane landed. It was the same feeling that hit me as soon as I decided to pursue a legal career. It was the feeling of getting it right.
My status as an immigrant and its accompanying dual identities have always been intimately linked to my desire to pursue a legal career. Growing up as a Nigerian immigrant in America meant regularly existing in a liminal space between a world of privilege and innumerable opportunities on one hand and an equally proximal world of unimaginable limits and deficiencies on the other. In one world, I attended Stanford University, a renowned educational institution affiliated with one of the world’s premier medical facilities while, in the other, I listened to my parents recount the painful story of losing their first child in Nigeria due to a lack of running water and basic medical equipment in their local city hospital. It was tensions like these that spurred my dedication to effecting social change and tackling the inequalities that exist in both of my worlds.
I plan to dedicate my legal career to public service and policy work with an emphasis on human rights and public health. I am not certain off what form this work will take, whether it be diplomacy, governmental legislation, or politics. What I am firm in, however, is my desire to pursue this path. My ambitions were cemented when I participated in a 2008 summer fellowship at the University of Cape Town’s Gender, Health, and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) as a medical anthropology student. During my time at the GHJRU, I worked with attorneys to shape South African health policy concerning rape victims and HIV-positive people based on research and interaction with these communities. It was here that I saw firsthand the power of the legal profession to impact the lives of people in a tangible way. The policy developed by the GHJRU ensured rape victims easier access to the potentially life-saving treatment post-exposure prophylaxis and demanded the ethical treatment of HIV-positive people by the South African Police Service. The GHJRU did not seek to speak for those for which it advocated—rather it sought to involve them in the discourse surrounding their health and their bodies by making them participants and stakeholders in the process. This was an invaluable lesson that I will forever carry with me and that will undoubtedly influence my own career.
Despite my experience at the GHJRU, I am not blind to the many inequalities and deficiencies that also exist in America. My volunteer work at the Black Coalition on AIDS (BCOA) in San Francisco, California, displayed the social issues that are realities in many American Communities. With the BCOA, I worked to draft health policy for the city of san Francisco that was geared toward the physical, mental, and environmental aspects of health. An equally important aspect of this policy was its objective to make health care “intellectually accessible” to people with varying degrees of education, thus allowing all to be active participants in their own health care. This experience awakened me to the problems of underrepresentation and lack of proper access to resources that are all too often forgotten or diminished when placed in the American context. It also served as an important reminder of the fact that social issues such as these exist in all societies, even the most seemingly privileged and advanced.
As I prepare to add law student and, eventually, lawyer to my list of identities, I cannot help but reflect on the irony of my stead-fast passion and single-minded ambition being borne out of the very tensions that I once viewed as an obstacle. However, I have and will continue to work relentlessly to reconcile these the tensions within myself and in surroundings. The biggest realization that I have made in my life thus far is that we do, indeed, have a voice in determining the people we become and the world in which we live. My greatest hope is that my work as a lawyer will be a lasting testament to this. With this in mind and armed with the unique perspective provided by the aforementioned experiences, I seek a legal education that will prepare me to not only shape health policy, but to reinvent the legal profession by taking a more holistic approach to policy development and legislation. For this reason, I respectfully submit my application to Harvard Law School for your consideration.
This essay is about fusion. Enumale Agada’s personal statement carefully fuses identity, experience, and commitment to his future goals. He skillfully harnesses a unique experience and hitches that personal story to his interest in enrolling in law school.
Agada first highlights the emotional tensions between living and learning in the United States and having roots in a third world country stricken by economic, social, and medical ills. This allows him to display his ability through cogent writing to explore nuanced issues. But Agada also gives himself a chance to showcase his own achievements when he explains how the tensions he describes led him to engage in certain academic and extracurricular pursuits that reflect his interest in public service and policy work. He does a fine job of highlighting his impressive resume without focusing just on himself. Instead, he ties every activity to the positive impact the law can have on the world – he speaks not only of what he has accomplished, but also of what he has learned. Agada also smartly pulls away from his focus on the third world versus the first to explore how his interest in the law is applicable in America as well as overseas.
The essay ends with a strong conclusion that goes further than simply summing up what Agada has said so far. Agada recognizes how his essay could seem self-contradictory—noting that it is ironic that tensions may see as an obstacle have led to his drive and success—and then turns what could be perceived as a flaw into new insight. He hammers home the point that the circumstances into which he was born have not defined him and that he has the capacity to transform his own world. Then, yet again, he successfully draws a connection between this personal knowledge and his outlook on the law. And most importantly, he uses this connection to reveal his intent to use his distinctive perspective and knowledge of his ability to effect change to reshape the legal profession for the better. This bold final statement leaves the reader with a lasting impression of Agada’s creativity, determination, and ambition.