Harvard Law School

Inspiration – KHALEA ROSS ROBINSON

Harvard Law School
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Inspiration
KHALEA ROSS ROBINSON

Two-Oh-Two-Seven-Two-Six-Five-Six-Two-Three. This string of numbers was the first I learned—to be recited on command for hypothetical firemen, the school nurse during pollen season, or both—and was delivered each time with a rapidity and enthusiasm that only a four-and-a-half-year-old could muster.

As trivial as this recollection may seem, the first three digits of the phone number I remember to this day as a jingle have meaning to me because of the place they represent—Washington, D.C. There, I was born to a mother on whose baritone was as spiced with notes of the South as his seriousness was with laughter. The older I grew, the more faces the city showed me.

There was the Washington of polished heels through marble hallways. Of gavels, solemn and resolute, against sounding blocks. Of flag pins on the lapels of honorable gentlemen, and minced back truffle in salads at luncheons held in their honor.

There was also the Washington outside the hallways—-outside the walls even. The Washington of handmade signs circling in front of the White House; soft, small hands and large, weathered ones alike, united by some shared belief, holding glowing candles pushed through Dixie cups to save well-meaning fingers from the ire of hot wax poised to fall.

But perhaps most noticeable, most dramatic, and most important to me, was the Washington that was not seen. The Washington, which did not have connections on the Hill, and did not have any real protest movement. The Washington that was promoted from grade to grade, all the way to cap and gown, stage and applause, and functional illiteracy. The Washington that barely had access to supermarkets, much less “power,” but was affected in a very real way by each change to the housing, health care, and criminal justice policies that were drafted, voted on, and enacted with each new session. It was the invisible Washington that emptied the wastepaper baskets and polished the floors of the Washington that legislated, and that raked the leaves and shoveled the snow for the Washington that marched. It was the Washington whose concerns were more vital than ideological. Its concerns were not even political—they were not even “new.” They were, and are, as basic as equal sentencing for equal crimes.

While I never saw this Washington at school, I saw its daughters every Saturday morning—first at a public school for the arts, and then, once school administrators’ congeniality had grown tired and our welcome worn thin, in the basement of a neighborhood church. Inside, forty figures, from seven to seventeen, would become one in the art and wonder of the arabesque and the pas de chat. And while a few of us studied in schools that were clearly preparing us for college, the vast majority of us did not.

Of all the meetings we spent there together, the memory most vivid in my mind is of the one Saturday that we spent neither stretching, at the barre, not en pointe, but rather kneeling on the floor: young girls with neat buns and bright eyes, leaning over newsprint, older ones helping younger ones, ballet slippers stuffed with newspaper to prevent creasing, all eagerly and meticulously spray-painting our light-pink ballet slippers a warm brown. All so that the visual seamlessness, which defines the art—the continuity of line, motion, and appearance from calf, to ankle, to pointed, slippered toe—could belong to the girls in that church basement also.

While I shall never forget the beauty of that moment—the resourcefulness and innocence of the girls on their knees that morning, carefully, faithfully fashioning for themselves slippers that no manufacturer thought to produce, it is my fervent hope that in their eventual maturity, they find their existence recognized; and that when they look to government as citizens, and to schools as parents, as they once looked to merchants as young dancers, they will find that —at last—they have been “seen.” In the same way that a mastery of physics is essential to the design of a bridge that is to stand, I hope to master the law as the instrument with which to help ensure that in my first home—a city of confluence and contrast, adjacency and antithesis—these girls, its daughters, and the similarly forgotten, of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, are remembered.

Analysis

Khaleas Ross Robinson’s essay may be a “law school personal statement,” but it is just as much a literary essay and effective because of it. From the digits intoned at the essay’s opening to the anaphora of “the Washington” to the figurative and sweeping language at the essay’s close, Robinson deploys her words carefully and with flair. In addition to improving the reader’s experience, this carries some real weight: Robinson seeks entrance to a profession steeped in the written word.

Often, Robinson’s literacy approach enhances her thematic one. For instance, repeating “the Washington” reinforces the theme of the city and the different, insulated Washington it contains. Her vivid images, like that of the protestors and their weathered hands, convey thought and feeling. However, at times Robinson risks over-applying her literary verse. Her opening takes its time developing before launching to the essay’s message. And with a consistent sequence of prose that borders on purple, Robinson dulls some of her most salient passages’ effects. It’s important to know when to speak artfully and when to deliver concision.

But Robinson doesn’t simply show that she can craft her sentences. She shows that she can think. She carefully lays out the social problems and divisions she observes, and then relates them to her own experience. Many essays treat injustice as a flat, uniform beast and make uncreative statements about commitment to defeating it. Robinson comes across as no less committed, but her use of imagery and her discernment offer a more balanced view that shows she has considered these issues in more than surface-level terms.

This case for admission to law school isn’t explicit. The word “law” doesn’t even appear until the final sentence. But you don’t need to say “I want to go to law school” to say you want to go to law school. Instead, Robinson’s essay incorporates a variety of elements that build her tacit case. Although this book files her essay under “Inspiration,” a closer read reveals that a good personal statement like this can’t be pigeonholed. Robinson shows she can write. She shows she can think. She presents the images and themes that have driven her progress from childhood to today. She relates a telling scene and links it to her own law school drive. This is an essay of evolution, storytelling, critical thinking, and yes, inspiration, wrapped up in one.

It’s also an example of how what you write about and the way you write it interact to produce a total effect. So think about how you can fuse the techniques, strategies, and styles in this essay and the fifty-four others with the experiences and ideas you’ve amassed. Think about what a reader should glean from your few, brief pages. Think about how you can best display your own unique self. Then put it all together and complete the final step: write.

–Brian Cronin

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