What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice
Forced marriage, rape, malnutrition, and drunken teachers offering gifts in exchange for sex; one after the other, girls voiced the barriers they face in trying to complete primary school in Gulu District, Northern Uganda. Their Ugandan audience mirrored the girls’ stoic delivery, receiving the information without so much as a gasp. I was part of that audience. As an intern reporter for Mega FM, I had already heard of these barriers from government officials I had previously interviewed throughout my internship. However, it was heartbreaking to hear it spoken by the children who faced these issues daily. Their experiences reminded me of a law course I took in the third year of my combined journalism and Canadian Studies undergraduate degree at Carleton University, Social Justice and Human Rights.
This course was more challenging than my practical journalism courses, which demanded that excellent research and writing skills, and efficient multitasking were executed within tight deadline. In this course we studied cosmopolitan and international law, and it was Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and her essay, “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,” that were a revelation for me. Arendt argues that the most fundamental human right is the right to have rights, which is only possible when one belongs to an organized political community with the capacity and mandate to protect human rights. She asserts that when people possess this right they are judged by their actions and opinions, rather than by their identity and characteristics. Her exploration of the concepts of statelessness, citizenship, and human rights, and whether those rights are inalienable, crystallized for me the importance of citizenship, the role and responsibilities of states, and the relationship between the two with the rule of law.
As I listened to those Ugandan girls, I heard the devastating consequences brought about by the lack of an organized political community invested with the capacity and mandate to protect human rights. The more people I interviewed and the more I traveled around the Northern region, the more I saw how gendered, systemic barriers to education, employment, and family planning undermined the citizenship and human rights of Ugandan women and children. I witnessed how the lack of an organized political community, and the government’s inability to provide basic services such as clean water, contributed to the further eradication of the rights of the most vulnerable. Arendt’s assertion of the right to have rights took on a new salience and my passion for women’s rights and international law was solidified.
But Arendt’s concepts are close to my heart for another reason as well. In 1999, my parents and I immigrated to Canada from Moscow, Russia. For my Nigerian father and myself, Russia was a place where we were more likely to be judged based on our identity and characteristics, rather than on our actions and opinions. In a country where police and justice systems are highly corruptible and a Caucasian skin tone is the best insurance for legal and social equity, the state offered us little protection. Racism was personified in the skinhead who started at me menacingly during recess at school, and the fear that my mother felt for my father when walking down the street. This changed with our arrival in Canada. Although we had to adjust to a radically different sociopolitical environment, it was a climate without the constant danger, uncertainty, and fear that was such a mainstay throughout our time in Russia. When we received our citizenship, it was further affirmation of belonging and protection.
I chose journalism as my undergraduate degree to enrich my reporting and analytical skills and pursue my passion for writing. I took full advantage of my degree to gain useful skills: I interviewed inspiring people and told the stories of refugees, activists, and entrepreneurs. However, I realized that while journalists hold tremendous power through their ability to bring to light stories that would otherwise remain unknown, they have little power to bring about lasting change. I want to help create lasting change. During my time at Carleton, I tailored my degree to focus on social issues such as immigration policy and women’s rights, and I took on a second major, Canadian studies, to gain a greater understanding of Canadian politics and society. My academic and professional choices were driven by my continuous search for a fulfilling academic and professional life, however, it was in Uganda that I realized I still lacked the challenge and purpose I desired.
As a result of my experiences, I have a keen interest in the relationship between international law, citizenship, and human rights. I believe Harvard Law School will provide the education and opportunities to help me build the human and social capital necessary to make a lasting difference in society. Armed with this knowledge, I want to fight for themselves. I believe my unique academic and professional skillset and international experiences will contribute to the diversity of Harvard’s community in a very productive way.
In this essay, Victoria Abraham uses a personal experience unrelated to school in order to establish a persuasive argument defending her interest in law school. Abraham plays to the emotional nature of her narrative in her first sentence when she lists the injustices suffered by Uganda schoolgirls in the city where she worked. The sentence is dynamic, and it paves the way for the essay to come. Abraham creates a relevant transition into her personal life as an immigrant in order to relate her story about Ugandan students to her own life. By creating this connection, she can make a more convincing argument as to why she was so impacted by the story of the Ugandan students a professional mission.
Abraham does an excellent job of clarifying why exactly she wants to go to law school. She makes it sound as if law school is absolutely essential to enact the change she wants to see in Africa. She backs this up by talking about her academic interest, and specifying how her coursework at Carleton University was tailored specifically to her experiences in Uganda.
One of the only aspects of this essay that could be strengthened is Abraham’s reason for choosing Harvard Law School above other schools. She just points out that Harvard would provide her with opportunities to use her social capital to make a difference in society. It would have been better if she had mentioned a particular feature unique to Harvard Law School that would help her with her goals as opposed to generically stating that the school could help her make difference. This is only a minor point, however, because the majority of space for this personal statement was used to flesh out Abraham’s background and primary interest.