Harvard Law School

Application Essays-JASON LEE

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

During my final months at Standford University, I received the same well-intentioned advice from many different people: Don’t pick a job for money or prestige, pick it because it’s what you love to do. I was happy to comply. With a lifelong love of performance and two proudly acquired degrees in Drama and Communication, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the dramatic arts. Never mind that I had never visited the city, that I did not know anyone living there, and that I had not secured employment. As my mother once learned when I was twelve years old, after she tried unsuccessfully to dissuade me from accompanying her on a sixteen –mile hike up Half Dome mountain in Yosemite National Park: When I set my mind to doing something, I do it.

I steadfastly pursued my artistic aspirations for four years until a news bulletin on June 2, 2008, diverted my attention away from Hollywood and toward Sacramento. In cold, sober tones, our California Attorney General announced that the ballot initiative Proposition 8 had officially qualified for our November election. Aimed at eliminating the right to marry for gays and lesbians, Prop 8 was a clear indication that my home state was the next great battleground in the marriage equality movement. I had never thought of myself as an overtly political person and had no prior experience working for a political cause, yet I disagreed so strongly with the principles embodied in Prop 8 that I immediately decided to join those fighting on the front lines of this struggle.

My first shift took place at a Beverly Hills voter call center with twenty other nervous volunteers. As we shared our reasons for getting involved, I felt proud that so many people from different backgrounds had come together to support the campaign. We had gays defending their newfound right to marry and straight allies fighting on behalf of friends, siblings, and coworkers. We had Caucasians, African, Americans, Asians, and Latinos of varying ages and religions. The fact that our modest voter call center had brought together such a diverse group of people, all united in a desire to protect the rights of an embattled minority, filled me with optimism.

I dedicated myself to the campaign over the next four months, working shifts across Los Angeles County- from voter outreach at a synagogue in Malibu to volunteer recruitment on the streets of West Hollywood. The campaign’s pace was exhausting, but the encouragement we received from our supporters always energized me. My most memorable instance of this place after a late-night volunteer shift when some friends and I retired to a bar to unwind. We struck up a conversation with a woman visiting from Texas who, upon learning that we worked for the No on Prop 8 campaign, told us, “You guys are so lucky to be gay right now—you get to transform the world. You won’t just be recipients of change, you get to make it happen.” It was such a beautiful message. When I felt discouraged or despondent during the campaign’s final weeks, I thought back on that conversation and reaffirmed my commitment to our cause.

In the end, our efforts were insufficient to sway the state electorate to our side and Prop 8 passed by a slim 4 percent margin. Though the voters have made their decision, I definitely do not feel like my work is done—I didn’t stop campaigning when I met a voter that I couldn’t convince, and I won’t give up simply because an election didn’t go our way. The struggle for equality depends upon the participation of those who feel passionate about it, and without a doubt, I am one of those people.
My involvement with the No on Prop 8 campaign has provided a new direction for my life. It has led me to pursue an education in law so that I might make a more significant contribution in future battles for civil rights. Prop 8 was merely the beginning of a life-long commitment to social justice, and I know that a legal education will provide me with a foundation for achieving great success in that arena. This path has not been easy thus far, and I know that it will only get more challenging, but I am determined to see it through. When I set my mind to doing something, I do it. Just ask my mom.

In his personal statement, Jason Lee uses a definition personal experience—in his case, his work to support same-sex marriage in California—to provide readers with a lens through which to view his candidacy and his desire to attend Harvard Law School. This is a popular strategy for admission essays, and writers who do it well-like Lee-weave their experiences into a compelling narrative that makes a strong case for admission.

The essays begins anecdotally, with Lee telling his readers about his decision to pursue a career in acting after college, and using a story about a long hike to demonstrate a streak of determination. Then, the statement takes a surprising turn, as Lee speaks about being drawn to work on the No on Prop 8 campaign in California. The argument he presents is relatively simple but powerful at the same time: While Proposition 8 passed, Lee has not given up working as an advocate, and he implies that he looks at a Harvard legal education as a tool that will help him in that endeavor.

That the essay shows Lee changing and growing only makes stronger. The essay opens with Jason Lee the dramatic artist who “had never thought of myself as an overtly political person and had no prior experience working for a political cause.” By the end, the reader knows and appreciates Jason Lee the committed activist and law school applicant. The course that connects the two demonstrates the strength of not only Lee ideals and determination but also his openness to new experiences.

An interesting thread in Lee’s essay is his occasional anecdotal reference to his mother. While the reference works in the introduction, it does so in the context of a more substantive narrative, the allusion to his mom, which ends the statement is not as effective. Generally, writers should strive to end their admissions statements with, at the least, summations of their narrative or their case to be admitted.

But what makes Lee’s essay especially strong is his choice of topic. By choosing to write about his work on the No on Prop 8 campaign, he has picked an experience that not only demonstrates his commitment to social justice, but also, as he explains later in the statement, represents a moment when his perception changed significantly.

—Matt Clarida

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