My university experience tore apart the foundations of everything I believed in.
Three years ago, I entered university with high ambitions but no target. I aimed to work hard, complete my degree in three years instead of four, and then study law to earn my way to a prestigious political career. I had a powerful passion for politics and was quite certain of my political views. I was also quite religious, and held a high degree of certainty in the veracity of my faith. These two elements formed the core of who I was at the time, but my first year of university would completely dismantle these convictions. In their place, it would instill a sense of confusion that persists to this day.
Curious about the new intellectual environment I had entered, I ventured to learn more about the faith of others by engaging in inter-faith initiatives. But increased contact with those from within my own religious community bewildered me, as I encountered different perspectives that I found difficult to reconcile with my own. Looking outward to other religious traditions only confounded me further. Concurrently, my courses in political science shattered the positive conception I had of world politics and left in its place a dismal portrait of an international system motivated by power and greed. With my fundamental beliefs broken apart, I delved into the academic study of both of these areas in search of definitive answers. The lack thereof only led me into deeper confusion, and I wandered about in search of something certain to grab onto.
My second semester brought me to a world politics course that exposed me to the tragic human consequences of the twenty-first century’s major wars. I became livid about the political calculations made at the expense of human rights, and set off on a path of actively opposing such actions. Learning about the injustices imposed on the world’s marginalized really hit home for me, for as the son of two parents who had been made refugees by one such situation I had seen firsthand the implications they had on the lives of the affected. My identities as an Indian and a Muslim, as well as my African heritage, heightened my personal attachment to the sense of injustice that began to overwhelm me.
Gradually, a sense of direction emerged from my frustration at the state of the world. My anger at the precedence of politics over human rights was supplanted by a desire to better comprehend the globe’s political system so that I could effect change within it. As I delved deeper into the world of international affairs – reading books and watching documentaries for hours each day, engaging in deep conversation with acquaintances of diverse backgrounds so as to better understand the issues that affect their countries—an overarching purpose emerged: justice. I wanted to devote all my efforts to the pursuit of justice for those without the means to defend themselves. The consistent outrage I felt upon learning of the adversities imposed on others solidified my resolve to contribute to a more equitable political system.
Yet my confusion over both religion and politics continued. My quest for the correct political disposition had taken me to the left and the right of the spectrum to no avail, while my religious journey had left me more lost than ever. But something had changed. Now, I found certainty in my confusion. My search brought me to explore many different religious traditions, and though the differences among them didn’t help to resolve my uncertainty I found that a common vein ran through each of their philosophies. The same common vein that transcended political ideology and was present in every political perspective, liberal or conservative, that I examined. Justice. It didn’t just exist in the realms of politics and human rights, but was an omnipresent idea. I realized that despite the myriad of factors that differentiate people, every human being and every philosophy aspires to justice, whatever it perceives that term to mean. I discovered that justice is universal, and it was this realization that helped me to find my way again. Despite still being quite lost, I had found a guiding light.
Three years on, that light had provided my life with purpose, direction, and cohesion. Everything about me – my worldview, my interactions with those around me, my ambitions for the future – revolves around that central concept. Nearly ten years of leadership in student activism, over six hundred hours of volunteering in my community, and an extremely successful academic career fueled by my newfound passion have cemented my certainty that I am on the right path. Faithfully, I follow my conscience as it directs me to dedicate myself to others rather than simply enriching myself. This light has given me a new foundation, and I want to build upon that foundation with an education in the most just of disciplines. I believe that Harvard, as an institution known for producing leaders who have changed the world for the better, is the ideal venue for such an education. With its unparalleled opportunities in international and human rights law, Harvard Law will provide me with the skills and intellectual conditioning necessary to make a meaningful contribution toward justice in the international system.
The structure of this essay is very logical. Zain Jinnah describes the intellectual confusion of his university years and through clear and strongly worded prose, leads the reader through his mental transformation as he comes to terms with the world’s inconsistencies. His motivation for applying to law school—a desire to pursue justice on behalf of the marginalized—feels somewhat overdone, and yet thanks to a step-by-step narrative that describes that exact thought process through which he realized the importance of justice, the cliché is tempered and his interest feels more natural.
Indeed, Jinnah threads the salient details about his own history into the essay very well; instead of stating his background in a block at the beginning, he specifically includes his parents’ refugee status and cultural heritage to clarify why the broader narrative is personally important. By establishing a context for his change and growth, this makes the essay much more convincing.
Less convincing is Jinnah’s tendency at times to slip into melodrama. He waxes poetic about his shift from search to revelation. The themes of a new “guiding light” and absolute statements, like everything now “revolves around that central concept,” oversell a meaningful transition. Instead, he might have focused more on the substance of that transition and of the response to injustice he identifies. Rather than pay lip service to his own identity, he might have expounded on his personal response to injustice. Furthermore, Jinnah doesn’t have all the answers yet – that’s why he’s applying to law school—and he doesn’t need to make it seem that way.
On that note, Jinnah’s statement is refreshing when it does embrace uncertainty, a sign that he understands the complexity of intellectual pursuit but has persevered as an academic nonetheless. This spirit is welcome at the graduate school level because it indicates awareness that scholarship, while necessary to make the world a better place, is not always easy. It is important, however, that Jinnah clearly identifies the objectives that such realizations have prompted; this suggests that he is goal-driven, a problem-solver, and determined – all critical qualities for a lawyer. That he does not state these traits outright but instead lets them appear through a well-crafted anecdote, is appropriately subtle.
Overall, this essay is strong because it is easy to follow and well written and identifies a passionate reason for joining the field of law. Jinnah isn’t done growing and has a long way left to attain his goals, but the reader is left with an important, enduring impression. Jinnah has the energy and commitment to keep going.