Harvard Law School


Police sirens drew near. The sound of a fire truck followed. Then, an ambulance appeared. The scene that led to the arrival of these vehicles forced me into maturity. First, I heard my stepfather, Brody, lecturing Mom. Shortly thereafter, I heard Mom scream. I was only ten, but I ran downstairs to help. Brody was choking Mom and ramming her head into the wall. I squealed, “Get your hands off Mom!” While his focus shifted, Mom dialed some numbers and hung up. Our phone rang, but Brody’s sermon—non-violently resumed to avoid my wrath—had our attention; but unlike on Sundays, a police siren silenced him. Mom rushed to the door and shouted, “Arrest him! He hit me!” Mom had dialed 9-1-1, hung up, and purposely ignored callbacks; this signaled the operator to send emergency vehicles.

The next day, I spoke to the school’s guidance counselor. She said that I could be open and honest with her, but I calmly said, “I’m fine.” Witnessing domestic violence only watered seeds of intellectual maturity that had been planted by events in my early childhood. At age two, I recall accompanying my father to the residence of the woman who later gave birth to my younger brother, playing with her children, and telling Mom about my experiences. I remember my parents getting divorced, my mom struggling to build a new life, and my grandparents taking me in. Way before I saw domestic violence, I knew—as Achebe says—that “Things Fall Apart” Understanding that things fall apart wasn’t comforting in itself, but I was able to say, “I’m fine,” because I knew that things—however bad they seemed—could be put back together.

A calm, “I’m fine,” was the result of having seen my family rally to put things back together after my parents’ divorce. Mom moved from the home she shared with my father in Jackson, Mississippi, to my aunt’s house in Memphis, Tennessee. While Mom worked two jobs so she could afford an apartment in a good school district, my grandparents took me into their home in Duncan, Mississippi, and prepared me for school and life. Grandma taught me everything from respectful manners to reading. Granddad showed me how to work hard; regardless of rain, heat, or cold; Granddad and I worked our land. Working land of his own was Granddad’s dream; he and Grandma, however, purposely sent me to Memphis with a different or a lawyer?” I always chose lawyer and Granddad always said, “It’s gon’ be hard, but you can do it.”

Though I thought Granddad’s words were about educational rigor, witnessing domestic violence showed me that he was referring to unexpected obstacles that can derail one’s dreams. Thanks to a wealth of wisdom, my childhood dream became a conscious career decision. Through Tennessee’s Youth in Government program, I argued a case on Miranda Rights in Tennessee’s Supreme Court. The entire process—from combing case law to briefing and presenting the case—proved so exhilarating that I closed the case on considering other careers. With regard to choosing an area of legal expertise, the jury was still out. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of law was its ability to add value to all arenas, from Corporate America to the non-profit sector.

My career aspirations gained specificity during my second year of college on my first trip outside the United States. While studying abroad in Rome, Italy, I tackled my first business classes: upper level courses in business and marketing and a course on economic and political structures of the European Union. Challenging coursework—assignments that made me use all my previous experiences and explore unfamiliar phenomena—shaped my legal aspirations. My international business course, for example, forced me to use my limited stock of legal expertise, business savvy, and political acumen to Houston and advised Kenneth Lay not to be swayed by the Congress Party’s promises of economic reform, as the power to control laws regulating business practices was shifting to parties that opposed promised reforms. Unique challenges like this confronted me every day, and I loved that.

Upon completing my program, I realized that the experiences that molded my strengths—seven years of studying international relations, six years of running my own business, and one career defining semester of legal training—could all be used in one area of the legal field, international business law. Through Sidley Austin LLP’s Prelaw Scholars Initiative, I conversed with international business attorneys and learned how to best prepare myself for my legal career. Harvard’s Law and Business program provides the international transactional, litigation, and regulatory expertise that I need to excel in my career. I can imagine nothing better than returning to Duncan, Mississippi—where Google searches for black lawyer yield no names—and showing children that they can be attorneys from Harvard Law.

In Jimmie Strong’s Essay, Strong describes how his childhood experiences—particularly, witnessing domestic violence—influenced his maturity and inspired him to become a lawyer and how this childhood dream was shaped by his academic experiences later in life. How Strong’s essay transitions from one subject to another fluidly and provides strong examples of his intellectual and emotional fortitude makes the essay a particularly compelling read.

Strong’s essay begins with a suspenseful description of a domestic violence incident between his stepfather and his mother. Strong explains the purpose of this anecdote without compromising the suspense by stating. “The scene that led to the arrival of these [emergency] vehicles forced me into maturity,” although he may overplay the extent to which that experience—and not the hardship that preceded it—drove his maturing. Though the content matter is extremely sensitive, Strong provides just enough detail to understand the story without distracting from a scene of its influence on his development. From the retelling of this night, he transitions to how watching his family recover from divorce and domestic violence gave him a strong sense of perseverance.

Strong then transitions from his childhood to his senior year of high school when he participated in Tennessee’s Youth in Government program. He sneaks in a few clever legal puns when describing how he “closed the case” on other professional after this experience. The following paragraph focuses on his experiences with the law in his undergraduate education but it is important to note that even though Strong’s essay follows a chronological structure, it describes his evolving relationship with the law and how his interests became more precise.

The essay loses some of its focus and strength as it nears the end. Ticking off various experiences and achievements feels like a forced afterthought following the concise and powerful body of the essay. The personal statement is only one aspect of an application, and the points Strong tacks on in closing should show up in other components. Strong could have left the reader with a more lasting image and feeling if he concluded closer to thoughts in the line that ends, “from Corporate America to the non-profit sector”.

The last sentence— which states that he would like nothing better than returning to his hometown to serve as a role model for young children as a Harvard attorney—feels oddly sentimental and unexpected since he did not mention this intent previously in the essay, but it nonetheless makes an adequate end to an artful and persuasive essay.

–Hayley Cuccinello


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