Harvard Law School

Application Essays – ISAAC HO

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice 

The institution of Evangelical Christianity serves many purposes: For some, it is a convenient farce, an expedient through which power, fame, and authority are acquired; for others, it is a source of moral guidance, a doctrinal foundation upon which ethics, ideology, and way of life are grounded; and for still others – for those whose faith constitute purpose itself – it is the very “bread of life.” Growing up the son of Evangelical missionary parents, I was raised in a household for which the latter can be said.

Having served on several mission trips in East Asia, my parents brought my sister and me to the United States in 1994 as part of what Time magazine hailed as the “Whiz Kids” wave of East Asian American immigrants. In contrast to the vast majority of these highly affluent, economically driven migrants, my parents came seeking the opportunity to minister in various churches around the Southern California area. So while many of my Asian American peers grew up being taught the importance of academics, extracurriculars, and SAT scores, I grew up being taught the importance of prayer, worship, Bible study, and seeking first the Kingdom of God. In addition to being home –schooled and Christian – schooled nearly the entirety off my K-8 education, our family changed residences once every year or so in order to accommodate the transient nature of my parents’ ministerial service. During this time, we relied heavily upon the financial contributions of those who believed in and supported by parents’’ ministries; my father often compared our circumstances to those of the prophet Elijah, who preserved in the ravine of Kerith because the Lord commanded ravens to bring him bread in the mornings. Through it all, faith remained at the center of our lives , overseeing and instructing everything from education to finances, from ideology to morality, from long-term outlook to everyday conduct. For my family and I, Christianity was truly – both literally and figuratively – the “bread of life.”

Like so many who grew up within the church, my faith was challenged in college. For the first time in my life, Christianity was not something that was spoken of in terms of “love,” “hope,” “faith,” and “compassion,” but more often than not in terms of “hate,” “bigotry,” “ignorance,” and “intolerance.” Though I initially thought that it was the world around me that had lost sense, the difficult realization hit during my second semester at USC that perhaps it was I who needed a broadening of perspectives.

The more I sat in on lectures and enfgaged with others around me, the more I began to understand the context of my own faith and upbringing. Today, I remain proud to call myself a Christian, though one with a much broader worldview. I am ashamed of neither my faith nor my back- ground, nor am I deluded about the role Evangelical Christianity has historically played in justifying the oppression of gays, lesbians, minorities, women, and practitioners of other faiths. Instead, I look eagerly toward the future, confident of our capacity for change and reconciliation.

What remains one of my greatest disappointments as a Christian and what I believe to be one of the greatest tragedies of sociopolitical discourse in the United States, is the antagonism that currently exists between of the Religious Right and members of groups, which have historically been condemned by the Religious Right. In the New Testament, Christ states that He came to the world to love, not to judge; it was He who dined with the Samaritans and reached out to the outcast, it was He who wept with the widows and brought comfort to the downtrodden. This attitude of empathy and inclusiveness, regardless of ideology or social status, goes missing far too often in the discourse over issues like gay marriage, tolerance of other religions, women’s right to choose, etc. Rarely do we hear from those who are willingly to reach across the divide to offer voices of understanding and reconciliation. Having been raised from a uniquely spiritual background, my sincere hope is to use the legal education offered at Harvard Law School to put myself in a position where I can contribute to building a more empathetic society in which Evangelicals and non- Evangelicals come to a greater understanding of each other, to be able “to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together” as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it. Whether this ultimately means pursuing a career in private practice, public interest, academia, government, etc., I cannot profess to know at this point. What I do know is this is what I have my heart set on and am ready to dedicate my life to achieving.

Issac Ho’s personal statement primarily focuses on his Evangelical Christian upbringing. One of the key strengths of the essay is Ho’s candid style, which allows him to write expressively about the importance of his faith without becoming overall sentimental. Through the effective examples he chooses and his genuine voice, Ho makes it clear how for his family, “Christianity was truly – both literally and figuratively—the ‘bread of life.’ ” He also establishes how he differs from the “Whiz Kids” stereotype applied to Asian Americans due to his humble upbringing, which asserts the uniqueness of his perspective early on in the statement.

The personal statement illustrates a clear chronological arc, beginning with how Ho’s faith influenced his upbringing, how his faith was questioned in college, and ending with how changing his perspective on his faith inspired him to pursue the legal profession. Again, Ho’s honesty serves the essay well when writing about his crisis of faith in college. He admits that he realized at college that he needed to broaden his perspective of his faith and describes how he learned more about the context of his faith and upbringing. Ho asserts that he can be proud of his faith while acknowledge the role of Evangelical Christianity in oppression. The complexity of this stance gives the statement a self –aware tone.

Though how Ho’s faith and upbringing have influenced his decisions to go into law is thoroughly substantiated, the essay may have been more effective if Ho mentioned any of his achievements in education or pursuits that relate to law. The bulk of the essay is a description of how he was raised and most of the specific details relate to his childhood or Bible quotes. How Ho’s crisis of faith specially inspired him to act would have made the personal statement more compelling. Additionally, Ho mentions that he wishes to attend Harvard Law School in order to foster a more empathetic society, but he does not specify why Harvard Law in particular would be a great fit for his needs.

Although Ho could have expanded more in those areas, he does provide a personal window. Religion is not an easy topic to navigate in a few hundred words. Ho manges to provide an intimate, well-thought discussion that interweaves experience and ideas. That alone says a lot.

— Haley Cuccinello

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