Harvard Law School

Application Essays – ALICIA ROBINSON

I belong to both the richest and the poorest nations of the Western Hemisphere, the United States, my mother’s country of origin, and Haiti, my father’s homeland. I spent ten years of my childhood and adolescence in rural Guatemala, which at the time had just emerged from a thirty-six-year civil war that resulted in the genocide of two hundred thousand Mayan indigenous people and is today rampant with drug-related violence. Together these nations represent the extremes of peace and violence, wealth and poverty, impunity and democracy. As such, the basis for my keen interest in the rule of law in different societies across the globe is precisely the fact that I know how it feels to live in a context of uncertainty and insecurity. My life experiences and the exposure to the aforementioned contrasts have proven to me that the absence of the rule of law destroys a society and propels it into a treacherous cycle of violence and poverty that affects family, neighbours, and friends.

In stark contrast to my short visits to the United States prior to attending college, the rest of my year was characterized by exposure to issues regarding forced disappearances, lynching in the name of popular justice, human trafficking, and everyday forms of violence. My nascent interest in post-conflict societies led me to conduct a number of projects on historical memory in Spain and Guatemala during my high school and college years. My mother’s work with the UN peacekeeping missions in Guatemala and Haiti had a strong impact on me and I have since pursued a number of UN internships in Geneva, Egypt, and Guatemala to broaden my understanding of the international legal and humanitarian system. It has been my ability, a true privilege in my opinion, to alternate between the realities of North and South that has granted me with a unique insight into the inherent differences between the two types of societies. My undergraduate studies at Stanford University focused on international law as a means of contextualizing my earlier life and of broadening my understanding of international and national legal framework as an absolutely essential character for facing these challenges.

A growing concern in the international community is the broadening gap between man and nature. The spring of my freshman year at Stanford, I sought to address the environmental and economic problems affecting the Lake Atitlan region where I grew up. I proceeded to raise $20,000 for the fuel-efficient stove initiative that I created and organized for Stanford Rotaract Club’s annual project. The objective was to reduce the use of timber for fuel in order to curb the preposterous levels of deforestation, and to reduce the danger posed to women and children when exposed to open-fire cooking. The project had quantifiable results for many indigenous households and provided me with practical insight into how larger-scale environmental projects could be carried out. I also became privy to the legal aspects of such environmental issues, such as the role of government regulations and the communal rights of indigenous peoples to their cultural and the historical heritage.

For the past few years, I have been unable to swim in Lake Atitlan or come into contact with the Lake’s water, which provides most of the public water supply in this indigenous area. Those who do may contract various sicknesses, rashes, and parasites related to the emergence of cyanobacteria, an algae that appeared as an offset of the Lake’s rising temperature and pollution. The destruction of an ecosystem, of a population’s main water source, of a culturally symbolic region for the Mayan population of Guatemala had been occurring right before my eyes and efforts to curtail this phenomenon have been “too little too late”. What used to be a striving tourist destination is today an economically distraught community wondering how to survive another week. It is a place that sadly reminds me of “Macondo” in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: a forgotten place tucked away in the mountains of Latin America, where time does not provoke fruitful change or bring about justice, and where there is no tangible future for my generation of friends.

I am someone who once attended high school in the back of an old, run-down hotel whose rooms were used  makeshift classrooms in a small indigenous town located in the highlands of Guatemala. Today, I am an individual who speaks four languages, who has travelled extensively, and who was admitted into the Phi Beta Kappa honors society as one of the Commencement speakers. My practical understanding of two major world trends leads me to approach the legal discipline with a desire to delve deeper into these issues, through studies of international and environmental law. However, I also seek to diversify my own knowledge and capabilities: I have previously been involved in different capacities with human rights, regulatory law, refugee law, and public international law, and I know that there are many more areas to explore. I have clear aspirations for my future and I envision a career that allows for mobility between both the United States and Europe. After extensive inquiry, I am committed to pursuing Harvard Law’s joint JD/LL.M. degree with Cambridge University, for it is a great means by which to pursue my objectives. It is my utmost desire to be admitted into Harvard Law School and I do hope that you will grant me the opportunity to pursue a career, which, I believe, was ultimately made for me.

Analysis


Alicia Robinson packs an impressive range of ideas into the relatively short personal statement. By integrating both interesting, dramatic anecdotes and personal insights, she is able to convey a remarkable depth of character and awareness. The essay rarely loses its focus, and every sentence serves either to deepen the reader’s understanding of Robinson’s past or her vision for the future.

If the structure and execution of this essay are laudable, its message is even more so. Robinson relays powerful examples of adversity she observed and faced growing up “in a context of uncertainty and insecurity,” and shows deftly how her experiences have inspired and solidified her interest in the rule of law. Robinson writes: “I am someone who once attended high school in the back of an old, run-down hotel whose rooms were used as makeshift classrooms in a small indigenous town located in the highlands of Guatemala.” Her childhood circumstances no doubt made her path to Stanford University, Phi Beta Kappa honors, and, ultimately, Harvard Law School more difficult than it is for most. Yet the violence and poverty she encountered did not leave her disillusioned; Robinson views these, in addition to environmental issues, as problems that can be addressed through legal frameworks.

Robinson’s essay takes on a sweeping set of experiences, from her family background to her studies and internships to her travel and Lake Atitlan. As a general rule, a focused approach usually creates the best essay. Lacking that, the transitions from one idea and story to the next become all the more important. Robinson often jumps from one topic to the next without an eye for how they connect. On a related note, she closes the essay with a mechanical list of accomplishments, lacking almost any connection whatsoever. Those various points should appear in the rest of the application. Here, they come across as forced and out of place. And in an essay that already risks becoming overly broad, this listing only serves to make matters worse.

On the whole, though, Robinson shows drive, empathy, and a keen, global perspective. The essay does not feel contrived: Robinson’s background and demonstrated interest in law make the “thesis” of her personal statement highly believable. Indeed, the admissions officer gets the impression that she’s the perfect fit for a career in international law (even before the candidate says so herself).

Lisa Mogilanski

 

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