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Title Page Copy right Notice Acknowledgments Introduction CONSTRUCTING YOUR IDENTITY Kenneth Basin Nicole Dooley Hani N. Elias Sarah Hy man Brenden Millstein Daniel Pierce Allison Rone Aly ssa Saunders WORDS AND LANGUAGE Katherine Buchanan Jerilin Buzzetta Derek Colla Samuel Kardon Paige Messec David Wertime “I WANT TO BE A LAWYER BECAUSE…” Rebecca Bazan Stanley Chang Noelle Chung Harold Drozdowski Steve J. Horowitz Ben Maxy muk Jacob Mermelstein

Joel B. Pollak Matt Sanchez TRAVELS Dharma Betancourt Chloe Cockburn Dana King Regina Fitzpatrick Kenneth Garrett Shane Hachey Katharine Mapes Carrie Mey ers Ry an Rowberry CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN James Ahlers Eric Benson Kevin Blum Nika Engberg Ry an Frank Tabatha George Susan Gershon Alejandro Moreno Victoria Shannon Emily Witten AN INTELLECTUAL DESIRE Kristin Bateman John Engel Mike Loquercio Douglas McClure Jane Morril Hilary Robinson Greg Scally David Sclar Molly Silfen

Lucy Stark Sandra Pullman David Pearl Rebecca Mangold Notes Copy right

Each of the fifty -five essay s in this book helped its author get into Harvard Law School, one of the best law schools in the country. We at The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s daily newspaper, have assembled this volume in the hopes that they might also help y ou get into the school of y our choice. None of the essay s in this book is perfect (though a few come pretty close). But each one, through its own particular strengths and flaws, holds lessons that y ou can apply to y our own essay to take it one step closer to the best essay y ou can produce. The analy ses by editors of the Crimson highlight and expand on the lessons of each essay , ensuring y ou get the most out of each one. When we selected the essay s that ultimately made it into this book, we kept an ey e toward diversity. We have ordered the essay s into six different subject areas, and even within those areas, no one essay is quite like any other. Thus, as y ou read the book, two things will happen. First, y ou’ll notice that certain themes keep recurring in the essay s and the analy ses—giving y ou a better a sense of the basic elements that make for good essay writing. Second, y ou’ll notice certain critiques that are particular to individual topics, certain strengths that help set one individual essay apart from the rest. For making this book possible, I would like to thank, first and foremost, our editor at St. Martin’s Press, David Moldawer, for the insight and motivation he provided us throughout the process. I would also like to thank Tom Mercer of St. Martin’s Press, for his help in generating the idea and inspiration for the book in the first place. This is not the first book of this kind that the Crimson has produced—St. Martin’s Press has already published two editions of our college essay book ( 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays), and a book featuring profiles of successful applicants to Harvard College ( How They Got Into Harvard). So we owe gratitude to Crimson editors past who have paved the path in which this book walks, especially former Crimson presidents Matthew W. Granade (1998), Joshua H. Simon (1999), Erica K. Jalli (2004), and Lauren A. E. Schuker (2005). Finally, I would like to thank all fifty -five law students who submitted their essay s for this book. Without their creativity and skill, this book would not be possible. And, of course, the Crimson editors who reviewed the essay s—when y ou took up this task, y ou were no experts in the field of law school essay s, but y ou finished the product with a skill, professionalism, and attention to detail that is a

testament to all of y ou. —William C. Marra President, 133rd Guard of The Harvard Crimson

In 2006, nearly a hundred thousand people applied to law school in the United States. The size of the applicant pool has grown dramatically over the past decade, up nearly one third from seventy -five thousand applicants ten y ears ago. As competition for spots in law school classes escalates, it becomes more important than ever to find way s to set y ourself apart from the pack. You must transform y our application into something more than the alphabet soup of LSAT, GPA, and résumé if y ou want an acceptance letter from the school of y our dreams. In a world where few law schools interview candidates any more, y ou must find a way to convey a sense of who y ou are, why y ou want to go to law school, and why y ou have the makings of a great lawy er. In other words, y ou have to make y our mark in y our personal statement. This isn’t the easiest thing to do. There is no formula for the perfect essay, no magic piece of advice to follow. The essay writing process is an intensely personal one. Your best essay will come from within y ou and will reflect y our own goals, desires, and worldview. But this doesn’t mean y ou cannot seek guidance in what has worked in the past. That’s where this book comes in. 55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays will provide y ou with the tools y ou need to write a coherent, compelling, and unique essay that will get the attention of any law school admissions officer. The essay s we’ve compiled here, all of which helped earn their authors a seat at Harvard Law School, will familiarize y ou with the subjects and writing sty les that admissions officers at one of the country ’s most competitive law schools look for. We have paired each essay with a review written by an editor of The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s daily newspaper, assessing the piece’s strengths and weaknesses. We recognize that these essay s were just one part of applications that likely included stunning test scores, GPAs, and résumés, and it is difficult to determine how much weight an essay carried in its writer’s acceptance. As such, some of our reviewers have taken a very critical ey e to these “successful” essay s to talk about how the writers could have further improved their personal statements. We hope these tougher appraisals will guide y ou in y our own writing process and remind y ou of some of the pitfalls of the personal essay. Not even the perfect essay can ensure a placement in Harvard’s next law school class, but it certainly helps

present a more compelling argument of why y ou deserve to get in. When y ou read the essay s and their analy ses, two things should become apparent. First, y our writing sty le and ability to effectively communicate a convincing argument are critical. Remember that, above all else, admissions officers are looking for clear thinkers who can convincingly advance a claim. The way y ou write y our essay and craft y our argument is key. The admissions officers are the first jury y ou’ll face in y our law career, so make y our opening statement a powerful one. Second, y our essay topic is vitally important. You get to make only one statement, so choose the set of experiences or beliefs that best represents who y ou are and what y ou value. We have grouped the essay s in this book into six broad categories. These groupings are a useful starting point as y ou begin to develop y our essay. Think about which category y our experiences best fit, and keep the overarching theme in the back of y our head throughout y our essay writing. Here are the categories: ? Constructing Your Identity: Personal statements are obviously intended to be personal. Discussing y our cultural identity and heritage is often the most effective way to tell an admissions officer who y ou are and to get bey ond the test scores and course grades on y our transcript. ? Words and Language: The study of law is all about understanding and interpreting language and the written word. The authors of the essay s in this category love language and explore its cultural, political, and legal impact. If y ou have ever studied a foreign language or have even simply been moved by an especially eloquent bumper sticker, this might be the category for y ou. ? “I Want to Be a Lawyer Because…”: There’s a reason y ou’re going to law school, right? Essay s in this category give the admissions officer a clear sense of why the applicant is apply ing to law school and, more importantly, what ty pe of law he or she wants to practice, whether it be international law or local tax law. ? Travels: One of the lessons of this book is that sometimes we learn best by study ing others. The authors of the essay s in this category write about the life and legal lessons they learned while study ing or working abroad. This genre, which often features compelling and colorful anecdotes, makes for some of the most captivating reads. ? Climbing the Mountain: Nothing demonstrates y our character better than overcoming adversity. Scaling mountains, both figurative and literal, and

surviving a test of character to fight another day are popular essay topics at all levels. Law school is no exception. Study the way these essay s are written to figure how to best tell the story of the time y ou slew Goliath. ? An Intellectual Desire: The authors in this category have not forgotten that law school is, well, three y ears of school. You will be learning a lot and will likely be in the most rigorous academic environment y ou have ever experienced. These writers discuss the academic draw of law school and the source of their intellectual thirst for legal knowledge. Whether y ou read this book from start to finish, or jump around looking for the essay that will give y ou the eureka moment y ou are seeking, I hope y ou enjoy the journey. I wish y ou the very best of luck writing y our essay and getting into the law school that’s right for y ou.


They had been subjected to indignity after indignity. They had paid over six months’ salary per person for the “privilege” of relinquishing their Soviet citizenship (though conveniently enough, they had lost their jobs upon apply ing for their visas and being labeled refusniks). They had stood quietly as armed soldiers barraged them with accusations of treason, anti-Semitic slurs, and threats of imprisonment. But standing in that train station in the Ukrainian border town of Chop, waiting for the train that would take them out of the Soviet Union and on the first leg of their journey to the United States, my parents had finally had enough: they would not let a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales go. The Russian customs official who made the final inspection of their bags had removed only the book, leaving my parents grateful that they had gotten off rather easily. But as they started toward the train platform, my sister (then five y ears old) lingered behind, growing increasingly hy sterical at the loss of her favorite book. My father pled with the official, not as a refusnik to a soldier or a Jew to an ethnic Russian, but as one father to another, for the return of his daughter’s beloved book. It was November 22, 1981, and my parents and sister boarded their train westward with two suitcases of clothing, $210 in cash, and a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Though I was not y et born, it is a story I have to come to know and feel as deeply as any of my own. In my experience, it is in the home that one’s ey es are first opened to the outside world, and my parents saw to it from early on that my ey es were wide open. With a family that had immigrated as political refugees to the United States, arriving in January 1982, international affairs took on a whole new life within my home. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union were more than headlines my father read in the newspaper; they were personal experiences shared by every member of my family . When I began my studies at the University of Southern California, then, I never doubted that my cosmopolitan interests would find a way to express themselves. I set out on a study -abroad program to London in January 2004 in search of the one lesson I felt that USC, or any American university, could never truly offer me: perspective. And so it was that on my summer break in Europe after attending King’s College

London, I found my self retracing my parents’ experiences through the continent on their way to the United States. In Eastern Europe, the legacy of Soviet Cold War domination allowed me to communicate using my proficiency in conversational Russian. In Bratislava, I arrived by train at the same station that received my parents’ train from Chop. In Vienna, I passed by the palace where for six day s my parents were held under armed guard to protect them from terrorists who had been targeting Jews and other refugees from the east in the winter of 1981. In Rome, I strolled through the neighborhood where my parents spent three weeks, waiting for their visas to enter the United States to clear. Given my experience with my family, my interest in international law comes as little surprise. When I consider the challenges my parents faced in the repressive climate of the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War, as well as those they confronted in try ing to escape it, the vitality of the field takes on a whole new salience for me: the modern world is a deeply interconnected one, and with that interconnection comes an underly ing sense of uncertainty. If man is to survive that uncertainty, he must find in it a guiding order. In my mind, international law is the means by which humanity can find that essential order and, with it, the stability and progress necessary to thrive. In the end, I have come to feel very strongly that the whole world is my home and, more than that, my responsibility. From the twinkling lights of Paris to the dusty corridors of one-time communist Budapest, from the bustle and excitement of the Turkish bazaar to the natural peace and beauty of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I have long believed that the world is my classroom. I have very much enjoy ed attending class. Review by Emma Lind This essay ’s effectiveness rests in its deeply personal nature. Because Kenneth’s interest in international law can be understood only in terms of his family history , it could not have been written by any one else. The fact that he is able to communicate the profundity of his family ’s escape from political oppression with clarity and concision, and then spin that into his personal draw to the field of law, is what makes this essay dexterous and strong. The first sentence of the essay is punchy, essential to grabbing a law school admissions officer’s attention and ensuring that [he or she] remember[s] the essay when comparing [Kenneth’s] application to others. The introductory paragraph delivers what the first sentence promises: a gripping story that is universally fascinating but holds enough personal elements to give it a raw authenticity. This is

the strongest paragraph in the essay, as it communicates the author’s ability to sy nthesize information he heard from his parents and establish both a historical context for it and a deep personal connection to it. The second and third paragraphs clearly transition the essay from a story of [Kenneth’s] family to a story of himself. His mention of study in London gives purpose to his decision to go abroad, which would appear on his transcript without any context or explanation. Notice also how he mentions that he speaks Russian, and communicates his interest and dedication to history, without being ostentatious about it. He mentions law only at the end of the essay, but the connection is strong enough that his conviction comes off as confident and to the point. Kenneth, however, could have done more with his last sentence, which is trite and doesn’t draw on a theme present throughout the essay. He should have mentioned his family history again to bring the essay full circle.

It usually takes people several attempts to figure me out. With the toffee-colored skin and curly hair that I inherited from my black father and Puerto Rican mother, my racial heritage has never been easy to guess. I’ve been assumed to be white, black, Hispanic, South Asian, and Middle Eastern, to name a few. With my background so hard to place, I could fit quite nicely into the predominantly white suburbs where I grew up. I didn’t look or feel all that different from the Doherty s or the Barravecchios living there. The racial homogeneity of my upbringing had an unfortunate side effect: I never had an opportunity to connect with black or Hispanic culture outside of my family. Growing up, I didn’t really notice. Acute racial awareness did not hit me until college. At that point, Rice University was the most diverse place I had ever lived. At first, I spent my free time with my South Asian and white roommates, as I was not ready to explore the black and Hispanic groups on campus. Soon enough, though, I ventured out, hoping they would add a sense of belonging to my life that I thought was lacking. I joined the Black Student Association, eager to find my niche. Instead, at every meeting or event I attended, I stay ed on the outskirts, feeling separated, as if I were observing through a glass wall. I couldn’t commiserate about being racially profiled, and I could get my hair wet whenever I wanted. My feelings of disappointment were so cutting that I didn’t attempt a single foray into the Hispanic group on campus. As someone who didn’t speak Spanish fluently, I feared that I would feel similarly disconnected. By the time I graduated from Rice, I had decided to take steps to grow into my

ethnicity. To begin this journey, I spent three weeks in Puerto Rico. My intent was to speak only Spanish for the duration of the trip and lose my self in the culture. Unfortunately for me, every one on the island spoke English and could tell my Spanish was not up to par as soon as the first anglicized hola came out of my mouth. As for culture, I felt oddly unexposed. My relatives took me to all the tourist spots and malls, where the customs mirrored those of the white neighborhoods where I had been raised. Ultimately, my trip brought me no closer to identify ing with my Hispanic heritage, and I returned to the States disappointed. The next part of my journey involved my postgraduation plans: teaching in inner-city Atlanta. I did not pick this path so that I could explore my “blackness,” but it was a fortunate side effect. I saw the experience as an opportunity to connect with and learn about African American culture—my culture. From the start, my seventh graders branded me as an outsider by not referring to me as light-skinned, their sign of acceptance. Instead, I was white. I quickly learned that to them, being black was less of a genetic fact and more of an attitude, which I initially lacked. The rejection I felt fully eclipsed the disconnection I felt in college. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and I needed my students to accept me in order to achieve my goals of racial acceptance and effective teaching. As each day passed, I related to them a little more by spending time with them at school and at their homes, both during the week and on the weekends. By the end of the y ear, my students serenaded me with songs about their light-skinned teacher. My personal quest for ethnicity was over; my students had taught me how to belong. Part of my duty as their teacher was to return the favor by teaching them how to belong in the world outside their inner-city neighborhood. Unfortunately, I was unable to give my students a complete picture of their greater surroundings within the confines of the classroom. I realized that in order to help my students, I needed to go bey ond the classroom into the realm of law. Many of the obstacles preventing them from attaining a complete education stemmed from issues within the legal sy stem, such as the emphasis placed on standardized testing. An understanding of law and policy making will give me a greater basis to provide minority students with resources to reach bey ond their borders to their fullest potential. I not only want to understand the existing law, but I also aim to make laws more equitable and fair for my former students. Law school will better equip me to give them the opportunity to expand their horizons, as I had done. Review by April Yee Several hundred words is precious real estate, especially when the stakes are

entrance to Harvard Law. Dooley writes a compelling essay that shows the reader she aims to serve an underprivileged population, and a reader would have benefited from more details about her experience teaching in inner-city Atlanta. Dooley shines in the second half of her essay. When she tells the reader that she visited students at their homes, she shows that she cares about her students and about being a good teacher. “By the end of the y ear, my students serenaded me with songs about their light-skinned teacher,” she writes, giving proof that her students appreciated her efforts. In her final paragraph, she explains how learning law will help her to serve her students. Now the reader knows why Dooley ’s quest for a racial identity and her love for her students matters. Still, the essay could be improved if she used her limited essay space to detail her experiences. She could have recounted her first day on the job, described the inside of a student’s inner-city home, or recalled the words to the songs her students sang to her. Dooley leaves the reader wanting to know more and feeling as if they ’re missing some vital information—something that may make for a good murder my stery , but not a good law-school application essay .

Growing up, I was frequently reminded by my parents—sometimes casually over dinner, sometimes with more religious undertones after Sunday Mass—that an abbot of a monastery had once predicted my monastic future. As an infant I was baptized into the Coptic Orthodox Church in a monastery founded in the fourth century by Saint Antony . The twenty -y ear-old Antony , meditating on the meaning of this temporary life after the passing of his wealthy parents, heeded the commandment of Christ to a rich man in the Gospel of Matthew and escaped into the Sahara: “If thou wishest to be perfect, go and sell every thing which thou hast, give to the poor, and take thy cross, and come after Me, and there shall be unto thee treasure in heaven.” As a y oung Christian, I admired Saint Antony for his self-sacrifice, but that was the extent of thought I gave to monasticism. Occupied with school and extracurricular commitments, comforted by my parents and friends, I saw meditation as an ambition for those with loftier sensibilities. Spring semester of my junior y ear at Harvard, however, tested me in unique and unfamiliar way s. I often found my self unable to focus in class, cry ing alone in my room, and unable to laugh at even the funniest moments from Seinfeld. A flood of thoughts distracted me, but a recurring one would eventually lead me back to the monastery, this time in the guise of a scholar. I kept asking my self: despite my

seeming academic success and comfortable life, why do I feel so unhappy, so out of place in the midst of common surroundings? I visited a number of phy sicians but the traditional medical lexicon could not describe my ailments and preoccupations; I called my parents daily but, unable to fully understand my problems, we could only pray together. I felt helpless at times and endlessly frustrated. This struggle pushed me to study monasticism for my senior honors thesis. My research focused on notions of world abnegation. I wanted to explore the plausibility of living independent of material possessions and from a technological and economic order that is leaving more and more people discontented, reliant on antidepressants, and in a chronic state of stress. On August 1, 2004, I made my way to California’s Mojave Desert where, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, seven monks live in cenobitic life in a small Coptic monastery. Despite an intense heat, I immediately felt an inner sense of calm and peace. Surrounded by mountains and disturbed by neither penetrating buildings nor offensive billboards, here I had the opportunity to discover my self; here my soul could refresh itself. The desert, as I once heard before, truly appeared to me as a plane between earth and heaven. Aside from my fascination with this dry wilderness, I was astonished to discover that an ethic of brotherliness breathed life into this desolate landscape. In the monastery, it would be inappropriate for any one to go to bed upset with another member of the community ; after our evening pray er, it became routine to reconcile any personal differences by kissing each other’s hands and asking for forgiveness. And y et behind this outward lay er of monastic culture, I soon discovered a more disquieting ethos. A week into my spiritual retreat and academic journey, I read a disturbing message from an early church father on the wall of a monk’s cell: he exhorts us not to fear the dead but to “run away from the living.” To a monk, this short message accurately convey s a central precept of monasticism, but to me it somehow equally contradicted my innermost vision of my own sense of place amidst the community and larger world. The monks’ disengagement from the troubles of the outside world was especially upsetting to me because of a trip I had taken to Egy pt three y ears before. In one town, I experienced a poverty to which neither books nor even photographs could fully do justice. Ezbet el Nakhl, an area inhabited by the city ’s garbage collectors, was, to an adolescent who was by no means wealthy, hell on earth. I interacted with y outh my own age whose sole arenas of play were heads of garbage; I smelled an unbelievable odor; and most disturbing, I encountered parents and children who no longer believed that things would ever improve. I keep thinking that these living beings, effectively ignored not only by their corrupt government but

also by monks, deserve my attention. The ethic of brotherliness and the principle of compassion—notions common within the monastery —cannot help those struggling to eat or escape disease so long as they remain limited to interactions between solitaries and recluses. Recognizing the importance of the mores of monastic communities, namely, selfless love and brotherliness, it has been my passion to create a network of globally conscious students—future leaders who are committed to serving and helping those less privileged. In 2002, I founded CollegeCorps, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to remove obstacles that currently prevent undergraduate students from becoming involved in health, education, and environmental work in resource-poor countries. While providing financial assistance and practical training to students alone may not alleviate poverty and disease, my stay in the monastery helped me realize that I cannot turn my back on those who are repeatedly marginalized. Perhaps paradoxically, I have also come to value asceticism. Like Antony, at twenty, I aspire to internalize the principle of self-sacrifice, to avoid the paraly sis of a lukewarm passion. Rather than escaping into remoteness, I will apply this rich ethic as I help those who face poverty and those who suffer from disease. Review by Emma Lind The strength of this essay is that the applicant manages to discuss a very impressive part of his résumé (starting CollegeCorps) without just regurgitating a list of his accomplishments. From the essay, it is clear that founding CollegeCorps was a turning point in the author’s life, and he discusses it by giving background about his personal life and struggles, and then relating that to why he wants to help people. His essay does not specifically say why he wants to attend law school, but it doesn’t have to—the tone and content of his essay indicate his reasons for him. His first sentence grabs the reader’s attention by revealing his supposed religious vocation, unusual in the largely secular world of law school applications. This upfront and unashamed individuality is key when admissions officers are reading thousands of applications from similarly qualified applicants. The first paragraph is strong because it steers away from the tempting but detrimental “I want to go law school because…” trap. The applicant delves into the deeply revealing and personal in the second paragraph, setting a tone of complete honesty and personal awareness. The last sentence demonstrates his ability to tie in his academic prowess to his personal interest in religion and emotional struggles, which speaks well of his intellectual

abilities. The rest of the essay reveals that the applicant is a gifted writer and communicator while transitioning flawlessly from his personal saga with religion and academics to his growing awareness of his place in the larger world community. The end of the second-to-last paragraph and the beginning of the last paragraph form the core of his essay : a personal account of how a previous conviction proved to be unfulfilling, and explaining his subsequent turn to an interest in law. The end of the last paragraph, though, is a bit too much: comparing oneself to a saint is almost alway s something to avoid.

Famous for little except their smoked salmon, ponies, and the Fair Isle sweater pattern, the Shetland Islands are not the sort of place one often hears about. Perched in the North Sea halfway between Scotland and Norway, the Shetlands belong to Scotland thanks to a dowry from Christian I of Norway in 1468. Since the time of the Vikings, a Norse language had been spoken in Shetland; the handover to Scotland, however, spelled doom for this fringe Scandinavian tongue known as Norn. As Scots English became the language of government and church, there was little need for the increasingly dated and old-fashioned Norn. I never would have heard of Norn if it were not for a single line of a linguistics article I read during the spring of my junior y ear, in my private tutorial with Professor Jay Jasanoff. The article mentioned in passing that the current dialect of the Shetland Islands was in fact Scots English mixed with a heavy infusion of Norn, whose last speakers died in the eighteenth century . Intrigued by this exotic combination of English and Norse, I wondered about the current status of the Shetland dialect and how much of it consisted of remnants from the Norn era. Alway s up for an academic scavenger hunt, I began, with the approval and guidance of Professor Jasanoff, to scour Harvard’s libraries for all they held on the Shetlands and their strange amalgamation of Norse and Scots. Especially intriguing to me and unusual for a spoken vernacular, the Shetland dialect, as I discovered, had been used without self-consciousness by generations of Shetlanders in both casual and formal social settings. The twentieth century, however, heralded the discovery of oil in the North Sea; consequently , both money and nonnative workers flowed into the Shetlands, the latter of which pushed the Shetland dialect along a path toward extinction. Having decided to focus my thesis on the steps Shetlanders were taking to prevent the death of their dialect, I traveled to Shetland in May 2003 thanks to a

grant from the Harvard College Research Program. While there, I found that Islanders no longer needed to speak their dialect since the predominance of “southmouthers” from mainland Britain meant that Shetland residents frequently spoke Standard British and Scots English. It also became clear to me that those who were try ing to promote the Shetland dialect did so because of its emotional importance: no longer necessary for communication, the Shetland dialect with its Norn remnants was actually a living embodiment of [the Islanders’] Scandinavian heritage. This notion that people can, through efforts to organize language promotion programs, prevent or slow down a dialect’s march toward the grave … fascinated me. For centuries languages had died with little fanfare as there was alway s a new dialect or language in use to take its place. As Professor Michael Barnes of the University College London wrote, “The concept of language as a badge of personal identity seems only to have become widespread in the nineteenth century, and … tended chiefly to excite those with the leisure to ponder such matters.” 1 Thus, the fact that some Shetlanders were proposing laws to require Shetland dialect instruction in schools stands as evidence of a new awareness of language as an important element in identity : though Shetlanders had no trouble communicating in Standard English, there existed a sentimental motive to keep the Shetland dialect alive. By rely ing on the legal sy stem to effect linguistic change, Shetlanders reveal a belief that nearly all facets of human behavior can be shaped through legal means—even requiring that a dy ing dialect be spoken in schools. After assessing Shetland’s actual language promotion efforts through fieldwork, interviews, and library research, I concluded that the Shetland dialect, although emotionally valuable, was destined to die. Parents, who wanted their children to learn Standard English so they could attend university in mainland Britain, thought that teaching the dialect in schools was preposterous. Furthermore, although many Shetlanders were sad to see the dialect abandoned, most did not take any initiative to organize a dialect promotion program. Although Shetlanders indeed thought of their dialect as a badge of personal identity, it did not appear to be one worth protecting. Upon my return from the Shetlands, Professor Jasanoff suggested that I compare the situation in the Shetlands to other European minority -language promotions. Thinking that rescuing a language through legal means was somewhat unnatural, I did not expect to find many successful linguistic promotion efforts. Surprisingly, citizens of both Luxembourg and the Faroe Islands successfully organized movements to promote their native languages. The Shetland dialect

movement, I then realized, will likely fail because of the particular indifference among Shetlanders, not because it is inherently untenable to promote a language/dialect through legal channels. What had started as a project investigating the fragile state of the Shetland dialect ended with my examination of how modern legal sy stems and motivated civic groups can alter language use. After having a small taste of how the law shapes its citizens, I plan to pursue a much more detailed examination of the written words that were crafted to dictate our behavior. After all, the law is the ultimate arena for linguistic study : nowhere else do words have as much power, and in no other context can an ambiguous sentence have more impact. I am looking forward to spending the next three y ears and bey ond immersed in a world of these influential words. Review by Bari M. Schwartz From the opening sentence, Sarah’s application essay is striking with its unique anecdotes, successful demonstration of her passions and work ethic, and overall quality of writing. Rather than stating all of this as fact, Sarah allows them to appear organically through the essay ’s construction. The writing is any thing but boring, as Sarah takes the reader along on her academic and personal quest. The essay ’s structure, in which she first presents her interest in language and concludes by illustrating how law and language intersect, is a formula overused in law-school admissions essay s. Regardless, the essay ’s assets outweigh its formulaic structure, and her essay still stands out among the numerous other essay s that attempt to do the same thing. Sarah’s inclusion of a quote with a footnote may not have been the wisest choice —the essay temporarily breaks from its memoir sty le and risks becoming too academic and impersonal. Also, it just takes too long to read through the essay — Sarah could have been a little more judicious in deciding just how many anecdotes and facts to include. The reader has to plod through a lot of material to discover why she wants to attend law school, and specifically Harvard. Sarah’s writing attests to her talent and her love for language, but her interest in law school is not obvious. The essay could just as well be an application for graduate study in linguistics. Further discussion of Sarah’s interest in study ing law itself would better serve the purpose of the personal statement.


Let me tell y ou about my friend Jake, the trumpet play er. He hung out with the wrong kids. He was caught drinking on campus and was suspended. Then he was caught smoking pot on campus and was suspended. He was arrested for robbery and thrown in juvenile hall my sophomore y ear. All the parents in the Jazz Ensemble signed a letter of support and faith in Jake and sent the letter to the judge. Jake was let out of juvenile hall, under the mandate that he was to stay in Ensemble. Within a week, he got into a fight. Some of his teeth were knocked out. It was the best thing that ever happened to him. He couldn’t play trumpet for weeks and realized that something in his life had to change. He started hanging out with new friends and rearranged his life. He was back in the Ensemble in a few weeks. The next y ear I saw him prevent fights, and break up fights after they had begun. Now he goes to Cal State San Jose, where he has had no disciplinary problems. Let me tell y ou about my friend Ted. He has no parents and is being raised by his single grandmother. He won the Yamaha National Drum Competition against college students when he was nine y ears old. One day he did not come to Ensemble. The day before, the gang he hung out with was the target of a drive-by shooting. He hid beneath a car. He was too afraid to come to school the next day. He stopped hanging out with the gang. When he was a sophomore in high school, he was awarded a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music. Now he attends Berklee when he is not on tour. Let me tell y ou about my friend Joe, the drummer. He lived in Concord and every day commuted fifty minutes each way to Berkeley High, so he could play drums in the Jazz Ensemble. His drum set was stolen. His family started saving money to buy another drum set. Then his house burned down. Now he lives in Oakland, another long commute, and does not own a drum set. His junior y ear, he won a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music. He is the drummer on the CD I produced; he play ed on a borrowed set of drums. Let me tell y ou about my friend Tony. He was arrested for defacing public property his sophomore y ear. He was held in juvenile hall for two day s. Several weeks later, he escaped the police by jumping a fence topped with barbed wire. He cut his hands and could not play trumpet for three weeks. This was a turning point for him. Now he avoids all hard drugs and paints in a sketchbook. He does not fail classes any more. He practices several hours a day and has a direction to his life. What has Ensemble meant to me? Every day in Ensemble, I work with Ted, Joe, Jake, and Tony. And I work with every one else in the band. After four y ears in the band, I have become friends with all of them. Through them I have seen many different sides of life. What has this experience meant to me? It has changed the

way I look at life. I no longer take any thing for granted. Every day in Ensemble I am reminded that I am lucky, not because my parents are together, but because I have parents at all. Every day I am reminded that I am lucky because I have never had to worry about getting shot while hanging out with my friends. Every day I am reminded that I am lucky because I don’t have to worry about having enough to eat. I love life. I love life no matter what, because I see every day how much worse it could be. But I also see joy in the musicians’ lives. All of us love music. And when we play, every one’s troubles are forgotten. Or if not forgotten, expressed, and so released through the music. When the Ensemble play s, our various backgrounds combine to form an incredible mosaic of music. And I love it. And every one else in the band loves it. And most people listening love it too, for whether or not they understand the music, they can feel the energy. And for a few moments, every one is truly, genuinely happy. What has play ing in the Ensemble meant to me? It has shown me a release from sorrow, from anger, from fear. It has shown me a bonding of people and of cultures. It has shown me that it is an insult to others to take any thing for granted. It has shown me how to express my self in a way that can be understood by musicians any where. It has shown me how to work with people and, more important, how to become friends with them. It has given me a window into other cultures, other backgrounds, and other lives, and it has given me a window into my self. Ensemble has also given me a way to help. I organize and lead a quartet: drums, bass, piano, and me, sax. We get gigs around the Bay Area, $300 to $500 per gig. All our earnings go to the Ensemble scholarship fund. The fund is for instruments, lessons, and tour costs. The Ensemble has an “all-or-nothing” policy for tours— every one goes or nobody goes. Many of the musicians cannot afford to pay any tour costs, and most cannot afford to pay all of the costs. My combo raises thousands of dollars for the fund. It feels good to play with members of the Ensemble, and it feels good when my combo gets paid and a new trombone appears in class the next week. Review by William C. Marra Brenden has written a wonderful essay here, thanks to a fantastic writing sty le that allows him to make the most of a very compelling story . Repetition is at the core of this essay, especially the formulation “Let me tell y ou about my friend.” This writing device gives the reader a sense that his friends’ difficulties are every where in Brenden’s life—every one has them, and they are all part of the same sy stem. Meanwhile, the short sentences Brenden uses when describing their hardships lend

a sense of inevitability to their troubles. There is no attempt to rationalize what has happened—it just is. Notice also that Brenden structures his essay into three separate parts. Normally y ou do not want to segment y our essay into too many parts, but with this particular essay it works well, as each part serves a distinct function in the essay . This essay is unique because its focus is not on the author. Brenden does not talk about himself, but others, and he comes in only insofar as he is friends with these people. In a stack of essay s filled with students talking about their accomplishments and strengths, Brenden’s will stand out as written by a humble man who understands that he has much to learn from others, even those nearer to the bottom of the social ladder. If y ou plan to write about some obstacle y ou have overcome or difficult circumstance y ou have had to deal with, consider approaching the essay by focusing on the other people who shared those circumstances, and then bringing y ourself in at the end.

Aeropuerto. My love of language began with this single word. After my first day of high-school Spanish, I lay on my bed with my book propped on my chest and carefully repeated it over and over. My tongue stumbled maddeningly over the word’s flapped “r” sounds and strings of unruly vowels, but I was determined to pronounce it correctly. For most other students at my small high school in rural eastern Tennessee, the foreign-language requirement was a hurdle standing between them and their diplomas. While the places bey ond our region interested few people I knew, other cultures fascinated me from a very y oung age. One of my favorite childhood pastimes was spinning my globe and imagining what life was like in the unpronounceable cities my finger landed on, and my first Spanish class represented an opportunity to discover more about the people in those exotic faraway places. On that afternoon seven y ears ago, I spent over an hour on my bed repeating the word aeropuerto until I was satisfied that I had it right. Since that day , I have had an insatiable passion for language. Determination to master a single word soon developed into a general resolve to acquire as many words in other languages as possible. I am one of the peculiar people who consider mastering the Cy rillic alphabet or researching Romancelanguage pronoun evolution a good time. Languages amaze me in their staggering complexity y et striking simplicity —while they are dauntingly complex sy stems of rules and exceptions to me, any small child can master them without training. Study ing other tongues has given me a fuller understanding of the way languages,

including my own, function. I now have increased awareness and control over the manner in which I express my self in English (though perhaps, according to my friends, on occasion I tend to overanaly ze what others say ). As any student of foreign languages can attest, the pursuit of fluency is a neverending challenge. My many blunders (calling my self a “pig” instead of a “lefthander”) and embarrassing moments (enduring correction from a five-y ear-old) have caused me to consider giving up many times. However, the personal relationships I have developed with people from other countries as a result of our shared language have made the effort worthwhile. I will never forget the delight of my Bangladeshi roommate’s mother when I greeted her in Bengali or the astonishment of a Moroccan man when I conversed with him in both French and Arabic. Participating in a massive antiterrorism demonstration in the rain-soaked streets of Madrid two day s after the train bombings there made me very thankful I had studied Spanish. My exposure to people from the places I used to dream about has given me a broader perspective on the world. Teaching English to local Hispanics allowed me to see the other side of our country ’s immigration debate through the ey es of the poor Mexican migrant workers who became my friends. By study ing Arabic and rooming with a Muslim, I have developed a respect for the Islamic faith and more acceptance for differing religious views than my background as a Southern Baptist pastor’s son afforded me. My interest in other languages eventually evolved into a desire to explore deeper questions concerning the way language works and the role it play s in human life. Through my self-designed major in linguistics, I have viewed language as a way of examining both humanity and the world through disciplines as disparate as philosophy, anthropology, and computer science. Language is the vehicle for transmission of our culture, the medium of expression for our thoughts and ideas, and the basis for human society. The intellectual rigor and logical nature of language’s scientific study interest me, but in the end I find examining language from the outside unfulfilling. Linguistics seeks to explore the connection between language, society, and the individual, but its status as a detached observer prevents it from affecting those relationships. Experience speaking other languages has taught me to value the shared, profoundly human, action of communicating with others to understand their views and formulate my own. At the same time, my study of linguistics has allowed me to appreciate language as an object of extreme complexity that demands thorough analy sis. Because of my interest in these two very different aspects of language, I now feel compelled to seek a career in the field of law. At its core, the study of the law is the study of language and the way it can be used to establish and modify the

framework for human interaction. Through language, the law seeks a consensus of views in order to codify the rules that govern all of us. While both linguistics and the law engage in the common activity of examining language’s complexities, the law does so with the express purpose of using language as a tool to change society. By study ing the law, I look forward to continuing to challenge my beliefs through interaction with others and to study ing more profoundly the phenomenon that has fascinated me from the day I learned aeropuerto. Review by Bari M. Schwartz Daniel Pierce does not do himself much of a favor with this essay on his love of language. The entire essay unoriginally describes his love of language, and his reasoning does not set him apart from any one else who loves study ing foreign languages. And the motif does tend to get overused for applications to both law school and other undergraduate and graduate institutions. The reason Daniel is unconvincing is that he doesn’t provide the reader with new insight about learning a language. It is clear to any one who has studied a foreign language that language intersects with culture; that languages are complex; that an adult student will still know less than a five-y ear-old for whom the language is his native tongue; and that learning languages helps foster international relationships. Toward the middle, Daniel makes reference to his Bangladeshi roommate’s mother. Had he started instead with an anecdote about this situation, one unique to him as opposed to the discovery of a “single word” (a cliché opening line in itself), perhaps he would have better grabbed the reader’s attention. Instead, this one-line story seems gratuitous. Furthermore, aeropuerto—the word that ostensibly ties the entire essay together—does not take on any special meaning. If, for example, his essay segued into an anecdote about a lay over in a Mexican airport and his run-in with the law’s intersection with international relations, this would have made a much more intriguing and convincing essay . Daniel’s focus on explaining language unfortunately gives the reader only limited insight into his personality , previous experiences, or why he is so personally compelled to study law.

White. It is just one word, five letters, a mere sy llable, y et it categorizes the ethnicity of over two-thirds of the American population. I check its box on standardized tests, job applications, and demographic questionnaires quite

regularly, but every time I pause, conscious of a vague resentment that the label stirs in the recesses of my mind. You see, though “white” may describe the color of my skin, it tells nothing of my background, my culture, or the rich heritage my family brought to America less than a century ago. It is a legacy that I have fought hard to revive and preserve, part of my identity that I feel is cheapened by our society ’s blanket Caucasian moniker. I am not merely white—I am Norwegian, a distinction to which I ascribe considerable importance. My heritage did not alway s play such a pivotal role in my life. When my ancestors emigrated from Norway in the early twentieth century, they strove to assimilate into their new homeland, to be “white” instead of foreign. They encouraged their children to speak English, wear American clothing, eat American foods, and otherwise forget the country they left behind. In a single generation, they succeeded. Neither my mother nor my father grew up understanding the Norwegian language, and until a few y ears ago, they knew little of Norwegian culture and traditions. As a child with a diverse array of friends, many of whom lived in homes where their ethnicities were actively celebrated, I became increasingly aware of my comparative lack of heritage. I watched my peers preserve their ancestral cultures with a touch of jealousy, longing to know and appreciate my own background. I was not satisfied with being just “white.” I wanted to find something unique about my self and my family ’s past, something that could differentiate me from my classmates. Unfortunately, my parents and grandparents were no help; having grown up with no awareness of their heritage, the questions I asked them about our family ’s history were met with shrugs or vague memories at best. Taking matters into my own hands, as a y oung teenager I decided to attend Skogfjorden, a Norwegian-language camp in Bemidji, Minnesota, that promised to immerse me in all things Norwegian for four wonderful weeks. I spent every summer during high school there, study ing the language, literature, and culture of my ancestral land while earning three high-school credits for my academic work. In an unexpected y et welcome concurrence, I came home from those summers to a progressively more Norwegian home. My newfound knowledge of and enthusiasm for Norway and its traditions spread among my immediate family members upon my return each y ear, and together we integrated them into our daily lives. Scandinavian desserts at Christmas, Norwegian blessings before dinner, traditional costumes, fireworks on May 17 (Norway ’s independence day ); bit by bit, our home began to reestablish itself as a Norwegian American household. Upon leaving for college, I continued to actively seek information about my

heritage. I enrolled in as many courses as possible related to Scandinavia, study ing topics that ranged from the Old Norse sagas to modern Scandinavian international relations. My interest deepened commensurate with my knowledge as I delved deeper into the colorful history from which Norway had emerged—folklore, my thology, kings and queens, heroes and explorers, ancient texts, rune stones, and legends. At the same time, I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of a few Norwegian exchange students who supplemented my formal schoolwork with their firsthand accounts of modern Norway and its y outh culture. Yet for all my studies I still knew very little of my personal Norwegian history, a shortcoming that I felt compelled to remedy. So, during the summer between my first and second y ears at Harvard, I finally traveled to Norway itself. The three weeks I spent there could not have been a more perfect complement to my y ears of academic and extramural study. I hiked on mountains I had read of in the sagas, saw the ruins of Viking ships, ate hearty Norwegian food, toured the parliament building in Oslo, and practiced the language constantly. Most importantly, I paid a long-overdue visit to my Norwegian relatives, those whom my forefathers had left behind. Their joy at my arrival and eagerness to share their way of life, the way of life that I had sought so fervently to understand and imitate over the y ears, overwhelmed me. Only after many happy tears and many long conversations into the night—for, after all, we had decades of catching up to do—did I leave with promises not to lose touch again, promises that have since been kept and that I am certain will never be broken. In the y ears since that visit, I have persisted in seeking opportunities to learn about and participate in my heritage. From the experience of my parents and grandparents, I appreciate how quickly inattention can stifle a family legacy, and I am determined not to repeat their mistake. I still have much to discover about Norway and my past, but I think I can safely say that I will never be simply “white” again. Though the color of my skin remains the same, my sense of self has changed forever. Review by Annie M. Lowrey Imagine the glee the admissions officer slogging through dozens of droll and polite papers must feel when she comes upon this. With cavalier counterintuition and assertiveness, the essay seizes upon the superheated topic of race in America and makes a pointed claim. And over the course of the essay, the writer convincingly shows why her Norwegian American heritage supersedes the “white” label that society applies to her.

The stakes are high. Had the writer stumbled in convincing us of the importance of her heritage, she risks seeming, well, bigoted, self-aggrandizing, contrary, and reactionary. Due to these heightened stakes, the essay works best in its bold first paragraphs. The single word of the opening sentence grips the reader’s attention, and the ensuing argument tumbles conventional wisdom on its head. It’s exciting stuff. And the writer does well to move bey ond her original claim and nuance her argument; she persuades the reader that identify ing her Norwegian heritage meant not only breaking from the Caucasian fold but also [developing] a deeper selfactualization. Because the beginning of the essay demonstrated such fire with its hard aphorisms, the middle and end seem a bit wet in comparison; the essay dwindles to a final trite comment. The writer cedes to the common pitfall of telling instead of showing, using bland adjectives instead of narrative to describe her experiences at camp and in Scandinavia. With better story telling, the essay [might] have finished with the same punch as it started.

As the only Jewish student in my predominantly Christian elementary school, I devoured opportunities to teach and learn about cultural and religious traditions. Every December I not only listened attentively to stories about my classmates’ Christmas celebrations, but also meticulously prepared a report for my class to explain the Hanukkah story and dispel popular my ths such as the Menorah Fairy. One y ear, when I told my teacher I had no ornaments to adorn the class’s tree, he presented me with a needlepoint Star of David to fasten to the treetop. My fourthgrade sensibilities urged me to be polite, but I had a nagging, instinctive reaction that my star did not belong. In this environment, I grew up both cognizant and appreciative of difference in a largely homogeneous community . Over time, my y outhful delight in sharing holiday customs matured into an intellectual curiosity about how heritage influences thinking about societal issues. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I witnessed the majority of the student body distill itself into uniform social circles, but I refused to fall into this comfortable pattern of self-segregation. Instead, I sought a forum in which to engage with diversity. I devoted my self to Diversity & Distinction, a glossy black-and-white campus publication that explored the shades of grey of social issues. As a writer for Diversity & Distinction, I broke the unspoken rule of selfsegregation. On one occasion, an interviewee’s misconceptions of me hampered and nearly terminated our discussion. In order to compose an article about the

impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict on campus, I met with several students of Palestinian descent during Ramadan after the daily fast. Balancing a plate of chickpeas and rice on my lap, I began to speak when one woman noticed my Star of David necklace and interrupted me. “You’re Jewish; do y ou have a problem with me?” she asked with suspicion, turning the tables. By completing the interview —and writing a balanced representation of the issues—I rose to the challenge of having an interethnic dialogue despite my interviewee’s initial hostility toward my heritage. Two y ears later, after I ascended to the position of editor-in-chief, I faced an abrupt job-interview question that gave me pause. “Why ’s a girl like y ou the editor of a magazine like that?” my interviewer asked bluntly. My identity as a white, Jewish, middle-class woman did not fit her stereoty pe of the editor of a diversity oriented magazine. Several of my peers similarly probed why I labored to foster dialogue about topics perceived as “minority issues.” By accepting selfsegregation as the norm rather than expecting students to confront diversity, these individuals failed to understand the advantage of having diversity on campus. If the ostensibly diverse groups featured prominently on college brochure covers do not materialize, the educational benefits of diversity are lost. A critical part of my own liberal arts education occurred during meetings with the magazine’s unusually diverse staff. My fellow writers and I brought our unique upbringings and experiences to debates about disparate topics, ranging from interracial relationships to the war in Iraq. As the editor of Diversity & Distinction, I provided readers with a taste of this candid—and at times confrontational— discourse. By surmounting many of the prevalent ethnic, racial, and religious divisions on campus, I not only gained valuable experience in cross-cultural dialogue, but also helped to enrich the academic experience of my classmates. I am proud that Diversity & Distinction encouraged students to engage with one another and reap the benefits of living and learning in a diverse community . Review by Shifra Mincer This candidate uses a gripping anecdotal introduction to keep the admissions officer interested in the essay. The introduction serves to paint a vivid picture of the candidate, as she explains her thoughts about the Christmas tree incident with her teacher. The introduction contextualizes the claim made in the first sentence of the second paragraph: the reader understands why diversity issues are important to Saunders. The rest of the essay is personal and detailed as it describes through

anecdotes the daily work of a writer and, eventually, editor of Diversity & Distinction. Saunders’s résumé say s that she worked for the magazine, but it cannot explain the challenges and the life lessons learned from this work. The essay is the law candidate’s opportunity to show the way that personal experiences have shaped his or her interests, and this essay accomplishes that goal very well. The candidate does not list what she has done as if she is rewriting her résumé, but instead describes the person behind the résumé. And in her account of an interview with an Arab woman, she includes details, such as a description of balancing her food on her lap, which add significant color to her essay . Saunders emphasizes her strengths as an evenhanded interviewer and as a discussion leader. She is careful not to point out her weaknesses, a common mistake made by many law school applicants. However, this personal statement lacks one major component that is crucial in a law-school admissions essay —Saunders does not explain how her work with diversity issues will help her law career. She never explains why she wants to be a lawy er, or how a law degree will help her pursue her career plans. In fact, she never discusses career plans. Finally, the conclusion does not clearly tie together the entire essay because it does not revive images from the introduction. It would have been helpful to bring the essay together by wrapping it up with references to earlier parts of the piece.


I let the words hang there for just a second, my pencil suspended over the graphite slashes: “Instead, for Ishmael, truth is constituted.” The phrase I have just written dares me to leave it there. I deliberate; the pencil taps. Then spurred by some violent sy napses in the brain, I smear out the last two words with the nub of my eraser. Something about the phrase nags at me. Is truth constituted? Constructed? Forged or fashioned? I try out the possibilities in a whisper, swishing the sy llables slowly , waiting for their connotative finish. Words have alway s possessed me like this: as a writer I am attuned to the nuances of experience I can set in motion with my language. As a reader, I delight in texts purposely crafted to disclose their complexity in response to my questioning. Given this passion on the one hand and practical necessity on the other, I have alway s sought out places where language influences our material reality, sites where words matter to truth. That language and reality are somehow connected, I’ve never doubted. After all, it’s not simply that words reflect the world; it’s that the world often takes its cues from words. Built into this constitutive power of language is the assumption that through a text readers are united across time and space. My intuition further tells me that this capacity of a single object to bring together an infinite number of subjects cannot be wholly unrelated to finding collective solutions to common problems. Try ing to better understand the abstract relation between text and democracy led to my interdisciplinary English major. The literature, history, and political science courses that I have taken have exposed me to an array of critical frameworks with which to investigate the truth-value of language in the specific context of twentiethcentury America. Accordingly, in my honors thesis about high-school American literature textbooks, I try to make connections between multicultural literary -canon expansion—students being reflected in texts—and broader participation in a pluralistic democracy . In the course of researching my thesis, I came to an unexpected realization: the changes I am documenting were enabled and justified almost entirely by the introduction of the word diversity to legal discourse. The relation between language and reality, then, is more complicated than a simple one-to-one correspondence; law mediates between signifier (word) and signified (reality ) in American society.

Law is the object that unites an infinite number of American subjects, governing— sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically —our entries and roles in society. Yet for all its privileged status, law is still a collection of words, replete with benign and malignant ambiguities. Thinking of the law as text has given me courage to challenge it. I’ve come to realize that the legal mediation process cannot happen without agents; law exists as a means of power only so long as we discuss and occasionally disagree over the final assignation of its signifiers. Ultimately, the force propelling me toward law as a career is the same force that drew me back to the irksome truth phrase in my paper on Herman Melville. I see my mission as similar to that of Melville’s maverick narrator: questioning tradition and its reproduction of iniquity by appropriating its forms for the formerly invisible. It can only follow that for me, as for Ishmael, truth cannot be impersonally constituted; rather, it is dialectically articulated. It is the promise of direct and sustained engagement in this process that is the compelling reason I want to be one of the specialized agents we call attorney s. Review by Rachel Banks Katherine Buchanan’s essay is effective because it demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the role law play s in society, and how her studies to date make her uniquely qualified to work within that legal framework. The opening of her essay is unexpected and refreshing, and immediately introduces the theme of language that permeates the entire essay. Sy nthesizing both her work on a Melville paper and the admissions essay question, she artfully brings together her work in the English department with her desire to be an attorney. When she defines the legal sy stem, she proves to the admissions officer that she has an innovative viewpoint, and that she has a mode of thinking that sets her apart from others. If y ou are writing an essay about the importance of language, y ou better make sure that y our essay reads clearly, and Buchanan’s does just that. Her writing sty le eschews long, cumbersome words in favor of a simpler, more crisp writing sty le. Rather than try to impress through use of a complex vocabulary, she proves that she is knowledgeable by expressing her complicated thoughts in digestible terms. Her essay is strong to the end, where the piece comes full circle when it responds to her initial question of how we define truth. Her reasons for wanting to be a lawy er are very clear. Buchanan has made the commonplace description of interests and talents into a distinguishing illustration of her ideas concerning the legal sy stem.

It might sound silly, but for most of my life I forgot I was part Chinese. With auburn hair, deep-set ey es, olive skin, and a conspicuous Italian surname, I am racially incognito. Over the y ears, Brazilians, Pakistanis, and even Turkic Uighurs from China’s westernmost Xinjiang Province have tried to claim me as their own. Fleeting reminders of my Chinese side emerged with my expert use of chopsticks and taste for pungent thousand-y ear-old eggs, but still it was easy to forget. Mom wanted me to speak only perfect American English and told me to be grateful that I resembled Dad. That way, she thought, her daughter could sidestep discrimination and enter the real world unshackled by minority status. Until I enrolled in Elementary Mandarin at [my university ] on a whim of curiosity in 2002, I had a four-word Chinese vocabulary : “kiss,” “sleep,” “baby,” and “puppy.” For eighteen y ears, I admired my Chinese heritage from afar as an exclusive community to which, despite my genetic link, I had no access. By traveling the demanding and rewarding road from a four- to six-thousand-word vocabulary , I have evolved from an observer to a participant of Chinese culture. I began to study written Chinese by robotically scrawling each character seventy -five times with a pencil. This crude method caused my hand to dissociate from my brain and resulted in zero recollection the next day. Today, I use a brush and ink to write each character ten times at a deliberate pace. One glance at my lopsided calligraphy would make any member of the Chinese literati cringe, but now I can compose articulate handwritten essay s without a dictionary. While memorizing visual characters is difficult, learning the associated spoken tones (high, rising, dipping, falling, or neutral) makes Chinese downright sinister. To a novice who once confused the vaguely homophonic li mao (polite) and liu mang (vagabond) in public, remembering that shí lìu means “sixteen” and shí líu means “pomegranate” seemed impossible. In response, I devised a method of memorizing tones by reciting words in the exaggerated sty le of a Beijing opera singer. I usually remember to shed the dramatic accent when I participate in weekly conversation classes.… Now and then, I give my self “environment quizzes” to test my ability to name every object and action I see. “Laptop, key s, insecticide…” Any unknown item joins my list of experiential vocabulary. Last night, I begrudgingly added “centipede” to my inventory when I saw one scuttle across my bathroom floor. For a lighthearted twist on informal practice, I translate pop songs to Mandarin. Instead of singing in the shower, I speak in Chinese. My strangest technique, exuberance training, derives from an approach by which entire stadiums of

Chinese students of English shout their lessons in unison. This method is said to imbue people with confidence to speak their second language in public. The first time I shouted about “seeing a doctor” from a grassy knoll on the outskirts of campus, a public safety officer interrupted my lesson. She shot me a bewildered look when I explained my method and told me to keep it down. Now, I save exuberance training for soundproof study rooms. Exuberance training improved my confidence in the classroom, but it did not fully prepare me for my months abroad in 2004. Within day s of arriving in Beijing, I stood at the gates of the Summer Palace, twirled my umbrella like a baton while humming a tune by Fleetwood Mac, and clocked an unsuspecting elderly woman on the head. Mortified, I blurted out, “Sorry !” as a knee-jerk reaction before realizing she didn’t understand English. The unlucky victim muttered “ Yang gui” (foreign ghost) under her breath and scurried away before I could redeem my self by apologizing in Chinese. At that moment, I felt disappointed in my failure to communicate such a simple message. My ability to read sixth-grade versions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and The Art of War meant nothing if I could not function in Chinese society . Despite countless hours of calligraphy, tones, and grammar, I still spoke Chinese with the sluggish step of silent translation. To coach my brain to achieve the next level of fluency by thinking in Mandarin, I limited my self to a Chinese-Chinese dictionary and defined all new words in simple terms I already knew. In my mind, “owl” became “big-headed bird,” and “battery ” became “energy pill.” My rudimentary definitions did not deviate far from the correct literal translations: “owl” is “cat-headed hawk,” and “battery ” is “electricity pool.” Within weeks of using this method, I began to drop the step of silent translation. Upon returning to the United States, I even dreamed in Chinese. At last, my brain could function solely in Mandarin. During four and a half months in China, I explored a socialist village; shared a banquet with local officials; interviewed prostitutes for a research paper; toured a factory that manufactured feminine hy giene products; harvested cultured pearls from an oy ster farm; camped on the Great Wall; circumambulated the Jokhang temple with Tibetan Buddhists; and helped a girl catch her runaway pig. I spoke with people across China about religion, terrorism, foot-binding, plastic surgery, gender roles, and other controversial topics. Inquisitive taxi drivers who drove me between my dorm and workplace in downtown Beijing treated me as a window into U.S. society : “Why does the U.S. bully other countries?” “Why do Americans eat so much?” On my final day in Beijing, the driver who took me to the airport said, “We need people like y ou to make sure the U.S. and China become close

friends. You will return to work in Beijing.” Now that I have exhausted my university ’s Mandarin classes, I attempt to carry out [the driver’s] prophecy by dedicating two hours a day to study ing Chinese on top of my regular course load. Back in the United States, I wondered when I would use Chinese outside my conversation classes. To my surprise, my newfound bilingualism enabled me to help thirty people escape the cold one night. As we waited in a freezing downpour on the sidewalk of Eighty -eight East Broadway for a midnight Chinatown bus from New York to D.C., the ticket seller approached my boy friend and asked, in Chinese, if he spoke Mandarin. I interrupted with, “No, he’s Korean.” Her ey es lit up at the sound of my slight Beijing accent; she was relieved to find a Chinese speaker among the diverse group of travelers. She instructed me to lead the crowd to a shelter seven blocks away , where we dried off and sipped hot tea while waiting for the delay ed bus. If only that poor lady I hit on the head in front of the Summer Palace could see me now. May be she would realize that I am more than a goodfor-nothing yang gui after all. Review by A. Haven Thompson Buzzetta opens her essay with vivid language that allows her reader to see, taste, and hear the evidence of her mixed racial heritage—her deep-set ey es, her taste in food, and even her mother’s voice. And she is quick to establish the thesis of her essay : as she explains in the second paragraph, her demanding journey toward fluency in Chinese profoundly affected her understanding of herself, her heritage, and her future. Buzzetta incorporates anecdotes and metaphors into her prose, explaining her path to linguistic proficiency in a clear and engaging manner. The essay ’s structure gives it an easy flow, as she sandwiches details about the mundane tasks of language learning between colorful anecdotes recounting two pivotal experiences. The first, an encounter with a Chinese woman who calls her a “foreign ghost,” humbles her and incites her to study even harder. The second—about the pride she feels when her bilingualism allows her to help strangers find shelter on a cold night —demonstrates her fluency in the language, but it also highlights her compassion for the less fortunate. The strength of Buzzetta’s essay is twofold. Buzzetta establishes herself as a sty lish, creative writer on the one hand; at the same time, she convey s her ability to devote herself intensively to whatever task is at hand. She uses concrete examples—such as … exuberance training and the “environment quizzes”—to describe her tremendous work ethic and drive. She tempers that intensity with

humorous personal details (such as humming Fleetwood Mac songs to herself) that allude to her personal life and interests. She is not, after all, merely a devotee to the Chinese language. Although Buzzetta focuses mainly on her experiences in college and in China, she cleverly uses a conversation with a Chinese cabdriver to reveal her higher aspirations: to work in Beijing and to foster understanding between the United States and China. Her artful and amusing prose expresses her determination as well as her affability .

I have found my self in a lot of uncomfortable situations over the course of my life, but none more so than the first time I visited my Italian relatives in Parma. This visit took place in the fall of 2003 while I was spending the semester study ing in Rome. No one in my immediate family had ever met our Italian cousins, but an older American aunt who was acquainted with them sent a letter arranging for me to stay at their apartment for a weekend in early October. I thought they would probably be able to speak English, and if they did not, I hoped that the Italian I had picked up during my first month in Rome would suffice. As soon as I stepped off the train and tried to start a conversation, I realized the gross inadequacy of my Italian skills. Asking people how to get to the bus station and ordering at a restaurant are quite different from carry ing on a dialogue with anxious relatives. Speaking only in situations of the former variety, I had built up a false sense of confidence that quickly washed away in Parma. My cousins were extremely gracious and hospitable (giving me so much food to eat that I nearly killed my self try ing to be polite), but the experience left me disappointed because I believed the visit had the potential to be much more meaningful and enjoy able. My great-grandfather Madardo Colla emigrated in the early 1900s, and I wished to find out the circumstances behind his decision, the history of my ancestors in Italy, and information about any relatives in Italy. Because of my deficient language skills, I missed the opportunity to learn these specific details about my background and develop a more robust self-identity. I agreed to come back and visit again in December, mainly because I did not know how to respectfully decline, and I consoled my self with the realization that I had another two months to improve before returning. I felt a real lack of self-confidence after my dismal performance that weekend, but during the train ride back to Rome I convinced my self that I had the ability to

learn the language over the next two months if I worked hard enough. Fervently setting about the task, I initiated conversations with any one [who] would speak to me in Italian, and carried a pocket dictionary in order to go back and look up words I did not understand. By watching television, working through the Gazetta dello Sport at least a few times a week, and participating in a language course at John Cabot, I gradually improved my Italian, and on the second trip to Parma I spoke well enough to ask every thing I desired to know. While not completely fluent, I possessed the ability to understand and be understood. Comfortable and engaged, I felt rewarded for the hard work I had put in to conquer a problem that had seemed overwhelming after the first visit. Just being able to say, “The food is wonderful, but if I eat any more I think I will explode,” was invaluable. I think this experience demonstrates the sort of person I am, and why I believe I will do well in law school. Some people are so brilliant and talented that they immediately succeed at nearly every thing they try by rely ing solely upon natural ability. In high school, innate talent carried my academic performance, but the parity of ability in college forced me to work much harder. I developed the capability to learn quickly from mistakes and became resilient and persistent. This builds character in a person, and character is the most valuable asset I have gained from my time at college. As I look ahead to the challenges that law school will present, I am confident that I have the right mix of ability, work ethic, and positive attitude to thrive. Review by Sahil K. Mahtani What is immediately admirable about this essay is its honest acknowledgment of the writer’s limitations. Colla is not a legal genius, he makes clear, but a hard worker. Correspondingly, the essay emphasizes the triumph of a determined will leading to an achievement that could not be gleaned from reading a transcript. This is good, because it adds a level of depth to the writer’s application: the essay is not a mere dramatization of information already provided, but an original perspective in its own right. The writing in the essay is not particularly decorative, but its clarity might cater to a speed-reading admissions officer. What is missing, however, is any indication as to why Colla would like to study law. There is a hint of an interest in immigration when he speaks of his long-standing curiosity in his great-grandfather’s origins, but this is left unelaborated. The writer could expand this isolated historical rumination by explaining—or at least indicating—his plans for the future in light of his past experience. Doing so would convey a sense of purpose.

Still, there is much to emulate in Colla’s essay. The picture one gets is that of a decent, hardworking y oung man with an interest in his community and unique Italian heritage. The old-school accent on “character” also fits with this image. Coupled with quiet humor throughout (“if I eat any more I think I will explode”), Colla comes across as a true gentleman with a strong desire to learn. Remember as y ou write y our own essay, y ou don’t necessarily need to have flowery language and portray life-altering events to have an impact; sometimes a more humble essay can do the trick.

My passion for reading, writing, and analy zing literature has alway s been the most important component of my intellectual life. What draws me toward art with words, I have come to realize, is less the promise of insight into the human condition than a love for the process of analy sis and expression. My goal as a student and worker is the construction of meaningful interpretations, and that is why I want to pursue a career as a lawy er and attend law school at Harvard University . I love the feeling I get as I read closely, scanning for evidence that I can use to express an argument about an aspect of the intertwined bundle of sy mbols, images, characters, and themes that make up a good book. Creating original interpretations is its own reward, but I do not want to dedicate my life to academic pursuits. Writing an analy tical paper sometimes made me feel like I was rephrasing a question, not providing an answer, even though I was striving to clarify uncertainty , creating comprehension where none existed before. I honed my ability as a critic as my education progressed, but it was not until the fall of my senior y ear, when I took a course in literary theory, that I knew what permanent knowledge I would take away from my studies. I had alway s avoided literary theory because I didn’t like the seemingly contradictory idea of making rigid rules for the open and creative process of literary interpretation, but I was wrong. Literary theory, I learned, was not meant to impose limits, but rather to describe and help one understand how and why the entire process of interpretation worked. The texts we dealt with were the most challenging I had ever encountered, and the harder I concentrated on penetrating them, the more they rewarded me. Gradually, I started to apprehend a new way to look at the problem I had alway s faced as an English student: the harder one tries to isolate the essence of a text, the more it resists conclusive interpretation. Analy sis breaks problems of comprehension down into questions that can only be answered by posing several smaller and more exact questions which, in turn,

require even more inquiry and so on and so forth. While I had come up with many interesting conclusions, I was well aware that they did not represent objective facts that might serve as the last word on even an isolated aspect of the work, no matter how rigorously proven. Any conclusion we can draw can only be valid in a relative sense dependent on its context, but this limitation is also what allows and compels us to continue investigating, only in a different direction. Instead of building theories outwardly in a linear manner, striving to reach the alluringly distant horizon of complete understanding, we must travel back inward toward the source, questioning what has already been accepted by describing it in more detail, until a functional way to move forward becomes apparent. This is the core of how analy sis works, in any discipline, and it was study ing literary theory and majoring in English that taught me how to apply it. That ability, combined with the success and satisfaction I derive from exercising it, are the primary reasons I think I will be an excellent law student and, eventually , an excellent lawy er. Even though laws are generally enacted with explicit purposes in mind, circumstances shift and change necessitating new interpretations. Law, like literature, is a series of texts that can be easily misunderstood if not read carefully. Both the lawy er and the literary critic aspire to conduct analy sis with precision, insight, and the dispassionate conviction not to accept convention without careful consideration; however, the literary critic’s analy sis, if it is done correctly, only raises more questions. The entire legal sy stem is based on the principle that laws can be written in language that is clear and comprehensive enough to resolve disputes and provide appropriate regulation. Practicing law solves real problems, helping social entities, from individuals to corporations to governments, function better and understand their limits and potentialities more clearly. I hope to do this work my self someday, but first I want to learn about the theory and language of law in an intellectually charged environment like Harvard Law School. I look forward to sharing this pursuit of understanding with classmates who can shift and challenge my perspectives as I can shift and challenge theirs. Review by Dina Guzovsky Samuel’s essay is impressive for how much ground it covers in so little space: he tells us a lot about himself while also giving an original answer to the question of why he wants to be a lawy er. He loves analy zing texts, but is sometimes frustrated that he’s just “rephrasing a question, not providing an answer.” Thus, he’ll love the law, where he can combine his passion for analy sis with his desire to solve “real

problems, help social entities.” Samuel’s essay is also strong because he makes it clear that he is speaking about something he loves and is passionate about. His use of specific detail instead of vague generality helps bring his love of analy sis home to the reader. For example, Samuel starts the second paragraph with a particularly strong, specific sentence: “I love the feeling I get as I read closely, scanning for evidence that I can use to express an argument…” The reader feels he is right there as Samuel sits hunched over his desk, underlining furiously. Samuel also play s to his own academic strengths by speaking intelligently about complicated questions of literary analy sis. Sty listically, Samuel shines. The transition sentences between paragraphs are especially elegant, and his words are carefully chosen—it’s clear Samuel spent a lot of time honing his essay . If Samuel’s essay has a weakness, it’s the middle chunk. The section about his literary theory class seems parenthetical to the main topic at hand—he delves a little too deeply into specific issues of textual interpretation without introducing any thing new about himself that wasn’t already explained in the first few paragraphs. Nevertheless, this is on the whole a passionate and original essay, one which showcases both Samuel’s academic passions and his interest in the law.

My first car, y ou could say, was a vehicle for self-expression. I was seventeen, and it was a white 1992 Nissan Sentra, an androgy nous-looking car that I named Andy. Most seventeen-y ear-olds have an exaggerated sense of connection between their cars and their identities, and I was no exception. To my father’s dismay , within weeks of purchasing the car, I had plastered the entire rear end with bumper stickers. Although I like to think I’ve changed and grown since then, the only sticker I no longer agree with is the one that said, “If it’s too loud, y ou’re too old.” The rest are still reflections of what I stand for. Take, for example, the one that said, “Eschew obfuscation.” You might think it’s a joke, which it is, but it’s also a statement of the value I place on good, clear writing. Actually, I have a passion for grammar and even have a favorite punctuation mark (the semicolon). I can quote passages from The Elements of Style . I can’t read without editing, mentally striking out unnecessary words and rearranging phrases. One of the most important talents that a person in any field can possess is the ability to make complex ideas understandable, and this requires straightforward and succinct writing. This ability is especially necessary in law, where there is an unfortunate prevalence of words

like “hitherto” and “aforementioned.” The sticker that read, “Those who ignore nature are bound to deplete it” … expressed my commitment to environmental issues. My experience working at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change for the last y ear has solidified that commitment; perhaps more important, the serious and professional attitude of the Pew Center has shown me the kind of approach I want to take toward environmental issues. Environmentalists often have problems relating to other people whose primary concern is not the environment, and this impedes the success of the movement. To be taken seriously, environmentalists need to move away from their image as a bunch of technophobic, econophobic tree-huggers with pink hair and facial piercings. Law will allow me to take the kind of practical, professional approach that the movement often lacks. The movement needs people who understand environmental laws, who can make them understandable to the public, and who will work to improve them. Taking my strengths into account, [law] is the career that will offer me the best opportunities to effect changes in the field. Women’s issues is another area in which law would allow me to take a pragmatic approach. Feminism has gotten a bad reputation. I first realized this when the sticker “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people” was torn off my car. The first time it happened, I called my bumper-sticker company to order a replacement. They sent me three extras, in case it disappeared again. Every time somebody ripped it off, I put another one back on. I wasn’t going to let the unpopularity of the movement discourage me. When I got to college, I tried to join the campus feminist magazine. The staff, however, decided that our first feature article should be on the history of the vibrator, and I couldn’t see how that was going to win over any of the undecideds. I have alway s preferred a constructive approach to one that merely draws attention. Articles like that will “empower” a small percentage of people, but it will alienate the rest. To make progress, we need to dedicate ourselves to serious issues that affect women. Not only that, but we need people who are positioned to make changes. Among other things, women’s causes can use good advocates in the law. I wrecked the car two day s before I was to leave for college, and we had to sell it to a salvager. Though I was dismay ed at the time, it strikes me now that the crash marks an important change for me. High school is a time for figuring out what y ou think of the world and announcing it. In college and at work, I shifted from identify ing and proclaiming to doing. I hope law school and bey ond will be a time for more development and more action. Because after all, as my favorite bumper sticker say s, “Actions speak louder than bumper stickers.”

Review by Lois E. Beckett Paige describes the bumper stickers on her first car to showcase her different interests and abilities. It’s a gimmick, but she pulls it off through careful organization and vivid writing. Personal essay s need to have the same well-thought-out structure as an academic paper. In a twist on the old five-paragraph essay, Paige chooses five bumper stickers: an introduction, a conclusion, and three topic stickers to explore her interests in writing, the environment, and feminism. She ties each of these topics into her desire to be a lawy er. By themselves, Paige’s reasons for becoming a lawy er are not groundbreaking, but each of the sections benefits from her use of details. By including particulars like the make, y ear, and name of her car, Paige’s essay strikes a balance between generalizing, which might bore admissions officers, and offering extraneous information. The trick is to choose relevant details: try to say what is important in the most specific way possible. Paige includes the anecdote about the feminist bumper stickers getting ripped off her car four times not only because it’s a funny story, but because it demonstrates the cultural backlash against feminism. Telling that story is much more effective than stating that she perceives feminism to be unpopular today in many places. In part, Paige’s essay succeeds simply because she’s a good writer. But even if y our prose is not naturally as polished as hers, y ou can use some of her techniques. Choose vivid verbs, like “plastered,” rather than weighing down y our piece with adjectives. Vary y our sentence structure by alternating short and long sentences and dependent and independent clauses. If y ou have four sentences in a row that start with “I” or “Then I” or “Since I,” that’s a problem. And, of course, as Paige suggests, avoid “aforementioned” and other legalese. Paige also finds the right note to end on. “Actions speak louder than bumper stickers” brings the essay to a tidy close, but it also allows her to poke fun at the essay and show the admissions committee she has not been caught up in her own gimmick.

I joined the Peace Corps prepared for a great challenge, but life in Fuling came at me in small bedeviling pieces: steep, crooked warrens; a swirl of grit and fog that enveloped the city ; stifled laughs and tiny prejudices. I didn’t mind living alone, and living simply. But without the companionship of Chinese I felt like a child, my world a blur of perplexing events and my sterious ciphers. Too proud to remain an

ignorant spectator, I retreated to my apartment for hours each day and began teaching my self to read. Chinese characters proved an apt partner for eager study : orderly, elegant, responsive to my advances. The intimidating tangles of lines dissolved obediently before methodical inquiry : “big” became a man holding his arms out, “show” became a sacrificial altar with a goblet resting on its surface. In my dreams I manipulated these characters at will, inventing new ones that glowed big and bright like neon lights. Giddy with new knowledge, I read menus and street signs aloud to any one who would listen. After several months menus gave way to newspaper articles, and I rejoiced to find Chinese a language of austere precision. Whether simple or esoteric, sentences ran in digital chains free of articles, tenses, or verb conjugations. Where English words had seemed to mask their origin, Chinese shone pure and visceral: “vigorous,” for example, consisted of “fire” and “explosion” side by side. The most banal sentences swam with challenges, but I could alway s reduce them to a form solid and unassailable. Although substantial on paper, characters collapsed together as they passed into the reality of every day speech. Even the careful tones and sturdy sibilance of proper Mandarin resembled a jumble of like sounds and accidental rhy mes. In the local tongue, that fragile structure dissolved, flipping tones upside down, drowning whole phonemes. With every loud, lightning-fast sentence, the language I had so fervently sought seemed to turn its back on me. Feeling thwarted, I referred to the dialect as the locals did: “ tu hua,” or “dirt speak.” Only through my friendships did I begin to see the dialect as a window into a unique culture, not an indictment of my intelligence. My Mandarin met with praise, but “ tu hua” met with warmth. For a y ear my friends patiently spoke a language taught to them by bureaucrats; as this became less necessary, they became more themselves. They laughed easily and gleefully taught me the lush range of local insults, including my favorite, “Your mother sells bean sprouts!” Even such simple phrases proved surprisingly potent to hurt or console. I realized I wasn’t learning a dialect; I was learning Fuling’s first language. Through this language, I began to see the real characters around me almost as clearly as the written characters I had first engaged. Wry and sarcastic, my friends correctly described both their dialect and themselves as “vigorous.” Hs left the mouth as Fs because, legend had it, people there used to blow so hard when they spoke that the sounds slowly became indistinguishable. Emotion poured out in the exaggerated tonality of every sentence, free of the fetters of Mandarin’s refined inflection. Even age became irrelevant in a vernacular both brutal and

endearing—Fuling boy s were “babies,” the men “whelps.” As I have embraced the ambiguity and uncertainty of Chinese, it has finally begun to assume the clarity I once sought in the strictures of a grammar book. Paradoxically, the more I devote my self to this search, the less I live or die with success or failure. Chinese itself becomes a metaphor for the joy of language— that greatest of collective enterprises, inseparable from human beings or their cultures, as vexing and as lovely as both. Review by William C. Marra This essay ’s success lies in its ability to convey the author’s personal growth with a minimum amount of explicit introspection. Notice that but for its final sentence, the essay follows the author as he looks outward at the Chinese characters before him. Thanks to the author’s use of rich and descriptive adjectives, we effortlessly track his increasingly intimate relationship with a novel language. The whole exercise provides a window into the author’s cultural assimilation, his open-mindedness and ability to learn about new cultures and concepts—all without any explicit statement that this is going on. When writing y our essay, keep in mind the importance of showing rather than telling, as demonstrated in this essay. Wertime does not simply tell us that Chinese characters are all unique; he provides concrete examples of shapes and sounds evinced by the characters. Similarly, the author does not tell us that his knowledge of language has improved his connection with society ; he shows it using examples of him interacting with others through language. The one part of the essay that could use improvement is the conclusion, which is not ambitious enough. Wertime does not extend bey ond the reach of language to draw any broader lesson for life. His conclusion is that “Chinese itself becomes a metaphor for the joy of language.” The statement is unconvincing—Chinese is a language, and the logic seems circular. This is not to say that y our conclusion needs to make some unique revelation about the purpose of life. You should, however, try to extend bey ond the scope of y our essay and draw lessons for other areas of life. If y our essay is about language, make sure the pay off is more than simply that y ou learned the value of language. The same goes for sports, movies, or any other topic y ou choose.


I am left-handed, but I cannot cut with left-handed scissors. My elementary -school teachers encouraged me with special lefties, but alas I could not make them work. I would awkwardly grasp them and try to cut, but succeeded only in bending the paper and the scissors. Finally, I realized that unlike most people I write with my left hand, but like most people I needed right-handed scissors. This is, in short, the story of my life. At first glance my red hair and fair skin lead people to deduce that I am Irish, but just like my handedness, appearances only tell half the story. My mother’s ancestors are from Ireland, while my father’s are from Mexico. I enjoy my grandmother’s fideo, a traditional Mexican soup, just as much as I enjoy my other grandmother’s Irish soda bread. I grew up play ing Irish dolls and Spanish bingo, but never did I feel trapped between the two worlds; they are conjoining pieces of my heritage. Perhaps that is why as a child I reveled in fitting puzzle pieces together to create a complete picture. I have alway s enjoy ed problem solving, especially working complex math equations down to a simple, elegant solution. I now know that although being able to solve problems succinctly is a great skill, not every thing fits so easily into one neat box, my self included. I am a lefty who cannot use lefthanded scissors; I have light skin but my father’s first language is Spanish; I am a political science major who loves math. Realizing that I cannot be contained in one category has helped me enjoy the order in things while appreciating that which defies simple classification. The summer after my junior y ear of high school I worked for an attorney who specializes in child support collection. Part of my job was to create a client database so he could easily access all the pertinent information for each client’s case. This assignment was a perfect challenge because it allowed me to utilize my passion for puzzles and to be sensitive to the details of each case. One day my employ er invited me to the courthouse to watch him in action and meet local attorney s and judges. Law school was on the horizon and I knew this would be an amazing opportunity, but once we got to the courthouse I realized there were more important things to do that day . A client whose case was to go before the judge was beside herself with fear that her ex-husband would show up for court. I explained

to her that he was in another state and would not come to challenge the judgment, but her history of abuse would not allow her to believe it. I decided to remain with her instead of shadowing my boss in order to keep her mind off her fear by making casual conversation. That day did not neatly conform to my plan for it, but I was glad to know that when it really mattered, I put aside my personal agenda and was of use to someone who needed me. Working in the law office that summer taught me about the legal process, teamwork in an office environment, and how to trust both my skills and my judgment of priorities. This past summer I was honored to take part in the International Mission on Diplomacy program in Australia. Along with forty other college students, I visited Canberra, Sy dney, and Cairns. We toured government buildings, met public officials, and heard lectures by aboriginal speakers. Learning the rules of Australia’s electoral sy stem was interesting, but contemplating how to work within the framework of rules to make positive changes is what really tickled my brain. This ey e-opening experience cemented my desire to attend law school and enter the legal profession. Being a lefty in a right-handed world has given me a unique perspective that allows me to appreciate both sides of an issue. I want to be involved in a profession which highlights my appreciation for structure while giving me an opportunity to utilize my creativity. The order required to practice law appeals to my appetite for problem solving, and providing people with the agency to make changes in their lives appeals to my sense of compassion. My personality and my life experiences have convinced me of my fit for law school and the legal profession. Review by Melissa Quino McCreery Bazan uses her left-handed theme adeptly : she introduces it with a colorful but succinct anecdote and then lets it guide the rest of her essay without overpowering it. By taking a seemingly inconsequential fact of life and transforming it into a fresh and lively story, Bazan sets herself apart from the pack as she explains why she is good at “thinking outside the box” (without ever having to resort to that trite phrase). Once she starts talking about her work experience, Bazan has no hesitation about temporarily abandoning the metaphor rather than awkwardly forcing it to fit. This way, when she brings it back for the conclusion, the essay comes full circle and feels complete. The effect would be lost if every paragraph were plagued with the same imagery . When she discusses her internships, Bazan highlights what she got out of her

experience rather than dramatizing the importance of her work and its impact on society. She at no point asks her reader to be impressed—she lets the stories speak for themselves. This not only keeps her from sounding self-important, but results in an essay that is more engaging and personal as a result. Nowhere in the essay does she say, “I want to be a lawy er because…,” or “I know I am qualified because…,” y et by the end her reader can finish those sentences for her, and enjoy a lighthearted story about left-handedness as a bonus.

A cheesy, badly acted, low-budget teen soap opera from Taiwan called Meteor Garden starring F4—a clique of four long-haired male models—was my summer “reading” project this y ear. Over the last three y ears, from Bangkok to Beijing, all of Southeast Asia succumbed to F4 frenzy. By the time I sat down to watch Meteor Garden, the boy s of F4 had already filmed a sequel, released four albums, endorsed products like Pepsi and Yamaha, and temporarily retired. In F4 are lessons on pop careers brilliantly managed. Their success is a reminder of the invincible power of pop culture—a power I want to help harness as a music lawy er. The success of Meteor Garden and F4 was the carefully planned work of professionals. To start with, F4’s good looks and charm appealed to females. They shared a bond of loy al friendship appealing to males. They easily transitioned their on-screen personalities into musical sty les. In addition, most songs on F4 albums are credited to one member, establishing each as a solo star from day one. But more importantly, F4 was able to dominate the media by focusing with laserlike precision on one sector at a time—first TV, then music, then photo books, then live concerts. They produced products maximizing the potential of each medium, raising the standard for a pop act in each instance. By conquering each medium in advancing the F4 brand, the managers have revolutionized the possibilities and scope of pop-culture marketing. Those innovations and the infinite possibilities of those to come are the reasons I want to become a music lawy er. After having read the definitive books on music law this summer (by Passman and by Krasilovsky and Gross), I have come to understand the delicacy, even the Euclidean beauty, of a well-negotiated music contract. Lawy ers in music are particularly influential because they often act like agents, guiding an artist to the proper record-label channels and building relationships with both creative and business staff. In music, as in few other fields, the lawy er directly influences the client’s career directions. With y ears observing

the U.S., U.K., and Asian pop-culture industries, as an aficionado, as General Manager of the campus radio station, and as a censor at ABC TV this summer, I feel ready to start apply ing and translating what I have learned to the market. F4 has succeeded spectacularly, but they are an exception in an industry in crisis. Some have even advised me not to go into music in this economic climate. On the contrary, I see this time as the most interesting period to enter the industry, because it is today ’s pioneers who are abandoning decades-old thinking and establishing the revolutionary models and strategies of the next generation. A weak market favors bold action, creative thinking, and risk taking—all approaches I am eager to bring to the pop-culture industry. As F4 demonstrates, the rewards are enormous. Good music lawy ers are particularly needed now because the undeveloped body of law regarding new technologies is at least partly to blame for the free fall of the industry. Lawy ers must therefore be at the forefront of reshaping the industry . Reviving the pop-culture industry is much more than a business concern, however. Five y ears ago, Chinatowns in Indonesia were burned and looted; today y oung Indonesians learn the latest Chinese songs of F4 by heart. Pop is arguably the world’s most powerful force among y oung people, one that unites people across every barrier of language, culture, national border, or socioeconomic status. A phenomenon like Meteor Garden literally defines the dreams of millions. I firmly believe that there is no better way to influence and develop the potential of y outh than with pop culture, and I want to be a part of that process as an entertainment lawy er. Review by May Habib This is an excellent piece. From the beginning, the applicant captures the reader’s interest with a quick and vivid sketch of an unfamiliar Taiwanese pop music group. Stanley aspires to a career that is aty pical for Harvard lawy ers, so he takes the time to tell us about the music industry and what a lawy er could contribute to the field. He demonstrates knowledge about the state of the industry and acknowledges that he will have to overcome some obstacles in order to succeed. He also gives his views on where music law is undeveloped and how he plans to address those aspects. By the end of the essay, the reader is led to believe in the writer’s passion for the convergence of music and law. But though Stanley is very convincing in explaining his views on the global importance of pop culture, some of the language in the essay could have been toned down. How can a music contract have “Euclidean beauty ”? And how does

Meteor Garden “literally ” define the dreams of millions? The essay could have used another read-through to tighten and clarify some sentences. Also, an additional sentence or two of background information about the author could have helped his personality come alive to a reader. The reader is left with questions, such as how his experiences at ABC as a censor shaped his career plans, or what the roots of his pop-culture obsession are. Overall, however, the applicant distinguishes himself successfully in this essay by illustrating to the reader his unique reasons for wanting to study law.

I grew up in a small town in Eastern Washington. As a preteen making the social rounds in junior high, I began supplementing my academic diet with classes at three local colleges. By the time I was thirteen, I had garnered enough credits to earn an associate-of-arts honors degree with a 4.0 GPA from Walla Walla Community College. I was nominated for student speaker at graduation. But the school’s nominating committee, fearing that my exceptionally y oung age would upset the “traditional” student population, rescinded that nomination. Though I realized that my relative y outh and inexperience might continue to cause many such setbacks, I decided to use this situation to my advantage. I put off graduation to spend another y ear exploring all the disciplines the school had to offer. I also campaigned for the seat of associated student body president, declaring that my age made me no less capable of fulfilling the duties of the office. To every one’s surprise, I won the election. I then went on to serve the fivethousand-plus student body in a position of leadership that allowed me to contribute to the school community on a scale I could not have achieved otherwise. With all the transferable college credits I had compiled, I could easily have kept to the fast track through a four-y ear institution. Instead I adhered to my intention of exploring my academic journey to the fullest. I wiped the slate clean and entered Whitman College as a freshman after accepting its generous full-ride academic scholarship. I was determined to diversify my store of knowledge and experiences. While at Whitman, though still much y ounger than others, I was fortunate to participate fully in all facets of college life: living in the French language–interest house, performing with the Whitman Dance Theater troupe, swimming on our NCAA Division III team, and try ing to improve the campus by serving on the Student Life Board and working as an intern for the Intercultural Center—all while making sure to continue to excel academically within the liberal arts spectrum. My intellectual pursuits eventually culminated in the creation of a personally

designed major intended to fill a gap in the Whitman curriculum revealed by the rising importance of the European Union. I successfully argued to the Board of Review that my proposed comprehensive course of interdisciplinary study would create an understanding of the increased importance of shared European culture in defining European nations. By the end of my junior y ear I had met all the requirements for my B.A. degree in continental European cultural studies. But once again, in the spirit of delving as deeply as possible into the resources available to me, I did not forgo my senior y ear. Rather, I devoted the next eleven months to approaching my proposed disciplines from the European perspective of Paris. Living in Paris and familiarizing my self with the city ’s institutions, such as the Sorbonne, and its cosmopolitan organizations, such as the Société des Amis du Louvre, enhanced my ability to comprehend the daily experience of the new Europe, where I completed an eighty -page honors thesis, “A Historical and Literary Analy sis of French Antisemitism between the Wars.” The summer following my junior y ear, Whitman presented me with the Best Summer Internship Project Award, which would fully fund my internship as a research assistant at the headquarters of the Hudson Institute. While I was working at this internationally oriented think tank, the South Korean government commissioned a report concerning the possible effects of Western free-trade agreements on Korean trade and investment. I was in charge of compiling an extensive annotated literature review. It was through this process that I first glimpsed how my undergraduate training in European affairs and the cultural sensitivity stemming from my Korean roots could both serve to facilitate a flow of knowledge between East and West in the evolving global community . Study ing abroad during my senior y ear confirmed my resolve to continue upon a multidisciplinary and international path that, after graduation, immediately led me to pursue a master’s degree in international studies at Yonsei University ’s Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, South Korea. At Yonsei’s GSIS, which awarded me a full-ride academic scholarship, I have been supplementing knowledge in the history and culture of Asia and Europe with the basic disciplines of international relations, skills of methodology, and principles of economic analy sis. Even here, French and Korean lines cross, specifically at the Research Institute of Comparative History and Culture where, as an assistant researcher, I analy ze the two countries’ respective periods of mid-twentieth-century political and cultural collaboration. I have deliberately prolonged my intellectual and social journey until now, when I am finally on the same footing, agewise, as most fresh-from-college law

school applicants. I have anticipated this milestone for many y ears, and every thing I’ve learned and attempted so far has been in preparation for the legal education that I consider my true academic gateway into a purposeful and self-fulfilling career. I hope, through the legal training offered by y our institution, to specialize eventually in the world of international law encompassing both the Eastern and Western spheres in an era that will undoubtedly experience numerous confrontations of global proportions. Review by April Yee Chung’s achievements are extraordinary, and any reader would enjoy reading an in-depth account of any one of them. But Chung painstakingly unearths the contents of her curriculum vitae in a space that she could have used to delve into any one of the impressive feats she lists, such as her nomination for college class speaker at the age of thirteen, her advanced studies in Paris, or how she has explored her Korean roots in Seoul. This is one of the few chances an admissions officer has to meet Noelle Chung the person rather than Noelle Chung the academic. Sure, the reader is impressed by her accomplishments. But Chung’s impersonal approach leaves the reader wondering if she’s human. Like many writers, she falls into the trap of using too many adverbs and long words—such as “encompassing” and “supplementing”—when she could write in a more direct, personable sty le. Moreover, this essay could have gone to any one of a hundred law schools. She writes that she wants to use “the legal training offered by y our institution,” but fails to mention Harvard’s name. Stressing that she wants to go to Harvard, and only Harvard, could only flatter her readers’ egos. Though Chung’s essay fails to give her reader more than an overview of her résumé, she does smartly address her “relative y outh and inexperience.” Identify ing a weakness and showing how she has surmounted it can make readers feel Chung is ready for Harvard Law.

I was five when I fought my first battle, leaping from couch to couch with a sword and shield slay ing evil dragons and returning to my castle heralded by the clarion call of bugles. Sixteen y ears later I’m still locked in an epic struggle against the chimeras and dragons of our time, enemies that no longer breathe fire or rend with fierce claws, but kill with engineered biological weapons and improvised explosive devices. Swords and shields made out of brooms and garbage-can lids don’t cut it

any more, nor do knives, guns, or bombs. The battles I fight now are won with codes and ciphers, esoteric words, and foreign languages. For four months I was fortunate enough to be selected to work with the National Security Agency as a full-time summer hire, along with the best and brightest y oung minds our nation has to offer. I hold a security clearance above the topsecret level and will continue to do so for another five y ears. I have also been invited to continue my employ ment when my education comes to a close. Due to classification, I am unfortunately unable to discuss the specifics of my role in the agency, but I am able to say that, among a my riad of other skills, I garnered a knowledge and understanding of the culture of the Middle East and a strong proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic. I declined immediate employ ment because I felt that I needed a law school education to reach my full potential as a government employ ee. I witnessed firsthand the difficulties inherent in global law enforcement and the dire need our country has for U.S. citizens fluent in Middle Eastern languages, skilled in various legal fields, and sy mpathetic to the dy namic zeitgeist in [the Middle East]. On numerous occasions I met with top-level Pentagon policy makers to discuss the state of affairs of U.S. intelligence[, and] I frequently heard the need for effective y oung ambassadors and diplomats whose work would preclude the need for violent intervention in foreign countries. Currently many of our representatives in these foreign countries are not only unable to fully speak the native language, but are also ignorant of various crucial social taboos and faux pas. As a brief example, watch the next televised meeting of U.S. officials and Middle Eastern leaders and y ou will inevitably see the U.S. officials sitting with one leg crossed at a right angle, as is the fashion here in the States. Unfortunately, many of our envoy s are unaware that showing the bottom of the shoe in many Middle Eastern cultures is an insult akin to cursing or spitting. Harvard Law School is certainly an institution that would prepare me for my chosen career in government service. The Islamic Legal Studies Program at HLS is one of the preeminent programs of its kind, and I’m certain that my background in intelligence would bring a unique perspective to the program. Further, the chance to contribute to a student-edited international law journal that is as well respected in the field as the Harvard International Law Journal is an opportunity that I would relish. A final factor in my decision to apply to HLS is something Dean Kagan wrote recently, “[T]he study of law is not an arid intellectual exercise. The study of law matters.” This philosophy parallels my own in that I want to attend law school not to become a lawy er, but to study the law.

Review by Dina Guzovsky Harold’s dy namic essay is exciting to read because he has focused on a very specific interest (diplomacy ) and a very precise reason he wants to study the law. His refreshingly direct sty le and interesting vocabulary will stand out among essay s where the applicant talks about a vague love for and interest in the law but does not deal in the sort of specifics that Harold offers. From the start, the essay grabs us with the vivid image of the five-y ear-old Harold slay ing dragons on his couch, and the parallel between that and Harold’s later work for the NSA is original and effective. His mention of his top-level security clearance and work with the “best and brightest y oung minds” is potentially off-putting, but he’s better off for mentioning them. When writing y our own essay, don’t be shy to mention y our accomplishments, so long as y ou are not arrogant about them. The essay ’s only weakness is that Harold does not spend enough time elaborating on how he plans to use his legal knowledge as he pursues his career in diplomacy. Space he devotes to the interesting but ultimately irrelevant fact that many diplomats don’t understand social taboos could have been better used explaining how he would use a legal education in the field. This would give a better sense of what Harold wants out of law school, as well as illustrate to the admissions team that he’s really thought through his decision to apply. Still, Harold’s essay radiates with intelligence, ambition, and passion, and his interest in the law is clear and well articulated.

At thirteen—with baggy jeans and a voice that refused to change—I had my first trumpet lesson. My play ing was strong, but my interest was lacking. Toward the end of that first lesson, my teacher changed the way I thought about music. I had play ed through De Gouy ’s “Bolero” for him, proud to have hit every note. “Nice,” he said, “but I’ve heard it before. Next week, I want y ou to play it y our way.” With that, he added my name to the score: “edited by Steve.” And I began to make music. From then until I was nineteen, music became my primary focus. Nowhere else did I feel as though I were creating meaning rather than merely receiving it. I excelled on my instrument, eventually play ing at both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Soon after I arrived at college, I began to create meaning without an instrument in hand. My first opportunity was a class on ethical theory. Instead of merely

reading texts, we explored their limits. I even wrote a paper on the failure of Homeric maxims under Kant’s categorical imperative. “Homeric maxims” are, naturally, rules for living according to Homer J. Simpson—my interest in ancient Greek came later. While my work at that time might have been less than groundbreaking, I was enraptured by the chance to develop my own perspective. My interests in philosophy and music collided when I reflected, as a sophomore, on the question of peer-to-peer file sharing. I had been using file-sharing applications for y ears, but with mounting litigation against such services and increased attention on the criminality of copy right infringement, I decided to put my philosophical tools to work on the ethics of file sharing. But the initial search was aporetic: I needed to explore the underly ing copy right theory . The research that followed culminated in an article entitled “Rethinking Lockean Copy right and Fair Use,” which was published in the Deakin Law Review. For the first time, my philosophical voice enjoy ed a public performance. Though I did not thank my trumpet teacher, my article feels a bit like Lockean property theory, “edited by Steve.” I still love music, but what is even more exciting about making music in the scholarly realm is that my voice could change the way people live their lives. I do not expect that out of “Rethinking Lockean Copy right,” of course. At this point, I would be thrilled if just a few people were to read the article. But being heard has inspired me to work harder: I hope to make more noise soon. My goal is to help shape the way society understands, regulates, and recognizes intellectual property in a digital world. I have developed a strong background already by working with David Post at Temple Law School, attending iLaw at the Berkman Center, and publishing an article on copy right. I can find no better place to continue my studies than at Harvard Law School for three reasons. First, I greatly admire Professor [William] Fisher’s work, particularly the alternative compensation sy stem he advances in Promises to Keep. Second, my experience at iLaw was an amazing one, and I would love to contribute in any way possible to the Berkman Center’s cutting-edge research. Finally, Professor [Jonathan] Zittrain’s current research on the potentially grim future of the Internet has been the primary inspiration for my current project, “Running Headlong to Our Chains: The End of the Cy berstate of Nature.” At twenty -one, my jeans are not as baggy as they once were, and my voice has settled down. But my interest in creating meaning has not subsided. I make music every day by rethinking property rights in intellectual products, by reinterpreting Kant, and of course, by play ing even that old “Bolero” my own way. As a student of philosophy interested in music and law, shaping media policy is the perfect way to fuse my passions into a sy mphony of creativity. The laws of y esterday are not

fit for the technologies of tomorrow. My goal is not to change the world, but to help resolve this discord. Perhaps one day a small part of the way the world understands and regulates intellectual property in cy berspace will be “edited by Steve.” Review by Bari M. Schwartz Though at first it may seem as if Horowitz is straining to find a metaphor, the way he ultimately connects philosophy and law to his passion for music comes across as genuine as well as unique. In this way, he successfully convinces the readers how past pursuits relate to his desire to study law. The essay also draws strength from Horowitz’s subtle showcasing of his awareness of current issues and evidence of the path he wants to follow upon matriculation. The weaknesses of the essay are both sty listic and content-based. For one, many of the words seem out of place; with the tone of Horowitz’s essay as conversational, words like “enraptured” are unnatural. Secondly , the bottom half of the essay reads like a résumé, and with the accompany ing application, many of the accomplishments he discusses may come across as redundant. The essay is designed to bolster the reader’s opinion of the applicant and add more depth to the portfolio, not repeat it ad nauseam. Overall the essay does not stand out among a pool of other essay s. While the topic is personal, by the end of the essay the writing is slightly forgettable. Though he made an attempt to boost the essay with the “edited by Steve” theme, it could have been better reinforced. Lastly, Horowitz writes about his numerous opportunities to study law, and it is not clear why Harvard is his top choice rather than just another notch on his academic belt.

Every body has alway s agreed that I am an exceptionally capable and intelligent person. However, over the last several y ears, “every body ” has been getting anxious, wondering why this kid they alway s said could do (or be) any thing he wanted has spent much of his seven y ears since college bartending, temping, and wandering around the world. Actually, there were times I wondered these things my self. Although I was not nearly as unambitious as some may have thought, and I accomplished a great deal during those y ears, essentially every body was right. I was wandering—the result of having lost my map in 1994, the summer before my senior y ear at Duke, when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After spending

my first twenty -one y ears striving more or less uncritically for the things I was expected to want, facing mortality at such an early age changed my mind-set about the future and made it difficult, for a time, to make long-term plans. I needed time to form my own values and decide how to live my own life. Looking back, I wouldn’t change any thing. I know that I am now both a more complete person and a better candidate for law school than I would have been otherwise. After the surgery at Duke Medical Center that cured my cancer, I underwent radiation therapy that lasted into the second week of my senior y ear. Although the phy sical exhaustion passed by October, the psy chological and emotional adjustments took much longer. As I emerged from my initial anger and confusion, I was stripped of the sense of entitlement and possibility I had taken for granted as a Duke student. My sense of displacement deepened that winter when my parents separated after twenty -seven y ears. From that time on, I was both more carefree and more serious, less worried about other people’s expectations and more concerned with learning about the world outside the academic bubble. Most of all, I felt a desire for stability . So while my friends left Durham to conquer the worlds of finance, medicine, and academia, I stay ed behind and put down roots on the “town” side of the town-and-gown divide, and made lifelong friends there. I learned that I love food and that I am a natural cook. I started a community garden on an empty lot next to my house and got involved in the movement against the death penalty, traveling around North Carolina to participate in protests, vigils, conferences, and meetings. And gradually, I realized that I found meaning in life through concern for my friends and for the equity and welfare of my community. Following some months traveling and study ing Spanish in Ecuador and the Galápagos, I serendipitously found a job I loved at Duke. Although I began as an inexpert temporary employ ee, the return to an academic environment and the challenge of mastering a new discipline stirred my initiative; I was promoted over the span of sixteen months to Web designer and then team leader of the school’s Web development group. After a time, I realized that the two or three y ears I planned to spend in Durham had turned into seven, that I had learned what I had stay ed to find out, and that I was ready to move on. As an undergraduate, I chose to major in English because of a love of rhetorical analy sis and close textual reading; later, what I found compelling about computers and computer languages was the analy tical rigor and technical minutiae. Managing technical projects and tweaking HTML code provided day -to-day tests in design and logic, and I enjoy ed the challenge of teaching and making technical material understandable to lay people. However, the work lacked the depth of critical thought and the political and social engagement I

am seeking in a career. I want to create a professional role that fully engages me intellectually and directly reflects my values and my concern for social justice. While there are a number of way s I might accomplish this, the law is the one best matched to my skills and interests. Today I feel prepared and excited to apply my experiences and strengths to the law. And because of the time I took to ground my self and develop as a person over the last seven y ears, I know I can be an excellent classmate, an active member of the law school and civic community, and ultimately a better advocate and scholar. Review by Nicholas K. Tabor Maxy muk delves into some very personal issues and feelings in his admissions essay —and it’s a gamble. A cancer diagnosis and the separation of one’s parents are heady events that can play heavily into a person’s career motivations; however, it’s difficult to discuss emotional issues in such a short essay without losing the focus of the piece. Maxy muk balances these concerns tremendously well, convey ing the significance of the personal events, y et only insofar as they led to his apply ing to law school. His essay demonstrates that if y ou’re going to write about deeply personal issues, be honest and up front about them, and focus on them throughout. Through the essay, Maxy muk indicates many personal characteristics that befit an HLS applicant—a taste for academia, a “love of rhetorical analy sis and close textual reading,” and a tack for “critical thought”— which might not shine through in the rest of his application. He’s telling a story, one that’s both compelling and to the point. However, Maxy muk’s mistake is his lede. It convey s a sense of perfection and personal infallibility ; he does well in the remainder of the essay to show he’s still learning about himself and gaining new skills, but the introduction is a red herring in a bad direction. A reworked lead-in would draw the reader into a superbly intimate essay .

Sitting in an empty basement room for five hours at a stretch allows a lot of time for deep reflection. I had already gone through six months of weekly lectures by psy chologists and other professionals and done countless role play s and practice calls in order to prepare for this moment, my first night manning the phones. Although it was past two in the morning, a mix of anxiety and excitement kept me jittery as I waited for my first call. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t completely

ignore the worry, “Why would any one call an anony mous student-run peercounseling hotline to talk to a complete stranger about their most personal issues?” A deeper fear (that I tried unsuccessfully to ignore) was whether I would be able to help them if they actually did call. In the next hour, both of my questions were answered. It was a call from a nervous freshman try ing to recover from his parents’ recent divorce and worried about classes, making friends, and fitting in at college. I was able to draw on the skills that I had learned during the intensive training and allay his fears, and by the end of that call I experienced the tremendous satisfaction of knowing that my training and preparation had allowed me to give immediate and direct help to someone in distress. Both my experience at the counseling hotline, Nightline, and my coursework in my major in economics (including game theory ) have fueled my fascination with the area of law concerned with alternative dispute resolution (ADR). At Nightline I learned to hone skills of active listening, feedback, analy sis, and perception that I believe would be invaluable in the process of ADR. I was able to continue to employ the skills I learned at Nightline as well as learn more about ADR at my current job at the plaintiff-side employ ment law firm of Outten and Golden. As I frequently serve as the initial contact individuals have with the firm, I often find my self depending on my skills as a peer counselor in order to talk to individuals who are sometimes in very emotionally charged states after having just been fired from their long-term jobs. In addition, sitting in on weekly meetings as the attorney s discuss how to proceed in a matter, I have been able to gain a greater appreciation for the process of ADR. I have learned that individuals seldom make their objectives clear at the outset and often do not themselves have a firm grasp of their own position. A successful mediator, like a successful peer counselor, can identify what lies in the best interest of each side and encourage movement toward that goal. Moreover, every conflict or dispute is not a zero-sum game. That is, a gain for one side in a conflict does not alway s indicate a loss for the opposing side, as there are often conflict resolutions in which both sides can benefit. As game theory confirms, two opposing parties may make independent selfish decisions and as a consequence end up themselves worse off, while an independent outside party can sometimes find an outcome in which both parties can have a greater gain. At the same time, my work at Outten and Golden has also taught me that there are disputes for which mediation would not be appropriate or in which it would be necessary to have binding arbitration, or actual litigation. For this reason I am eager to attend law school in order to learn the skills and acquire the knowledge that would allow me, when necessary, to act not only as a mediator, but also as an advocate and litigator. What appeals to me about Harvard Law School in particular

is the possibility of receiving a strong general law education and also focusing on my particular area of interest, ADR. It is my fondest wish to be able to study with Professors [Robert] Mnookin and [Frank] Sander in their courses on negotiation and mediation. I am also drawn to the Harvard Mediation Program, which would allow me to have hands-on training and experience as a mediator. I believe Harvard is the ideal environment for developing both as a lawy er and a mediator, and if I were fortunate enough to be accepted I am confident I would be a dedicated, passionate, and constructive addition to the Harvard Mediation Program and the law school in general. Review by Kyle L. K. McAuley Mermelstein opens this essay dy namically with his fascinating account of working at a peer-counseling hotline. These interesting opening lines—a staple of virtually all good essay s—get the reader interested and excited about the essay . Mermelstein’s essay is remarkable for its detailed emphasis on one particular area of law that its author is interested in. Mermelstein convey s at once his passion for negotiation, his experience with it in both the legal and service worlds, and why he thinks HLS will particularly help further his talents. This final paragraph, where he speaks of Harvard’s negotiation experts and courses, is particularly convincing because it expresses a unique interest in Harvard without being a stock paragraph that he sends to all the schools he’s applied to, just substituting “Harvard” for “Virginia” and “Stanford” along the way . In the essay ’s body, however, Mermelstein abandons the descriptive and engrossing language of his introduction. He is clearly a very talented writer, but he lets those talents take the backseat to formulaic legalese. With so many other law school essay s consisting of similarly indirect prose, Mermelstein’s could have been a real standout if he had maintained his direct, descriptive sty le.

“It’s time y ou learned to do things the Chicago way.” That’s what my father, a transplant surgeon, was told by his bosses when he complained about fraud in his hospital’s liver transplant program. Several doctors, he discovered, had been exaggerating the severity of their patients’ illnesses so that they would receive livers first, ahead of patients at other hospitals in the city . Not only was this practice illegal, but it put the lives of truly desperate patients at risk. Instead of taking immediate action to stop the wrongdoing, however, the administration demoted my

father and cut his salary . My father’s only recourse was to turn to the legal sy stem. In 1999, he and his lawy ers approached a federal prosecutor. Four y ears later, the government announced that the hospital and two others in Chicago had been caught cheating the organ allocation sy stem. A settlement was reached, and my father was awarded a small amount in damages. The money barely covered his legal bills. But he had been vindicated. Watching my father go through this ordeal and emerge victorious, I began to consider law as a serious career option. I had never been “prelaw”; I had alway s pursued my academic interests and work opportunities for their own sake. But I was inspired by the way my father’s lawy ers had helped him defend his principles and his career. My father’s case also resonated with my experiences as a political speechwriter and journalist in my native South Africa. I have witnessed many local examples of “the Chicago way,” cases of corruption in government that have corroded the idealism of South Africa’s y oung democracy. I began to see my father’s struggles as similar to those of ordinary South Africans who dare to protest. My place, I felt, was among the men and women who defend such people and their ideals against injustice. I had already begun to act as an advocate for a variety of different causes. In 2000, for example, I helped a woman in a squatter camp in Cape Town design and launch a website for her fledgling bed-and-breakfast—which happily is still in business today. In 2001, I published an op-ed in defense of the rights of the Inupiat Eskimos in Alaska, whom I had written about in my senior thesis and who were being overlooked in national debates about oil drilling in Alaska. Later that y ear, I tackled South Africa’s minister of water affairs and forestry in a public debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I challenged his harsh anti-Israel views in letters and articles in national newspapers, and on one occasion we even debated each other in public. My success emboldened me to take up other issues. In 2003, I presented a complaint of hate speech against South Africa’s public broadcaster after a news announcer read out an e-mail alleging that Jews had conspired to launch the Iraq war. The panel of judges at the Broadcasting Complaints Commission found against me but commented, “The Complainant … very ably presented his case. He handed in a 42-page document, almost like Heads of Argument by counsel.” That same y ear, I was asked by my Arabic teacher to represent an Islamic school at a city planning hearing. The school wanted to build a facility in a new neighborhood, but some of the area’s residents were opposed to the idea. I argued

that South Africa’s new constitution, which guarantees religious and cultural rights, would not permit the school to be blocked. Eventually , the school succeeded with its plans. These endeavors have shaped my goals, and they have led me to law, with a political career as a long-term goal. They have also helped me define my values. Proud of my Chicago upbringing, I must y et lend my hand to the fight against “the Chicago way .” Review by Andrew C. Esensten Pollak very effectively communicates in this essay why he wants to attend law school. He writes honestly about the role that lawy ers play ed in helping his father combat corruption in Chicago and in sparking his interest in law as a possible career. Though Pollak devotes the first third of the essay to his father’s ordeal—too much space for a short personal statement—he wisely uses the rest of the essay to address his own impressive accomplishments as a journalist and advocate. Without even a hint of pretense or self-righteousness, Pollak describes a number of episodes in which he challenged authority in his native South Africa. He employ s clear language and modesty in recounting these truly fascinating conflicts. However, by devoting no more than a few sentences to each one, Pollak misses an opportunity to discuss how his thoughts about law and justice evolved over time. The essay would be stronger if the author chose two or three conflicts and fully explored what he learned from them. Despite this, Pollak’s essay provides solid proof that he can write, argue, and speak in public—three skills that all lawy ers (and politicians) must master if they hope to be successful. Pollak’s admission that he did not follow the prescribed prelaw path but instead “pursued [his] academic interests and work opportunities for their own sake” is refreshing. Law schools are alway s looking for well-rounded candidates with real-life experience, and this essay demonstrates that Pollak fits the bill.

I’ve never been one to follow conventional paths. Despite the urgings of my parents, advisers, and every one else who knows what is best for me, I alway s have done things my own way . At the University of Florida, advisers tell journalism students to seek internships at local newspapers. They say putting in y our dues at a small publication will make

y ou attractive to larger newspapers, which are the stable employ ers of the journalism world. So, most journalism students lined up at career fairs last y ear, hoping to snag one of said internships. I instead sent an e-mail directly to the editor of my favorite national magazine, Bass Player. After a two-month online correspondence, I convinced the editor to offer me a summer internship. Those same journalism students also are told those local internships would involve a large amount of drudgery, with more glamorous responsibilities or even publication possible only after they put in the hard labor. It took me one day at Bass Player to convince the editors to allow me to interview one of my idols, who also is one of the most popular figures among members of the magazine’s audience. The piece I put together from the interview went over well with the editors, and the magazine has published my articles in almost every issue since. The summer before, I learned of an internship with a local left-wing, politicalactivist magazine. My views run moderate to conservative, save for some social issues, so the magazine and I seemed to be a perfectly inappropriate fit. I saw promise in the internship, however, and submitted my application. At the interview, I made no attempt to disguise my opinions, and I’m confident I expressed views that never before had been expressed in those offices. I began the internship a month later and served as co-managing editor for an issue of the magazine only a few months after that. Given my successes in following my own path, the few moments in which I am denied [those successes] are all the more frustrating. Throughout my experiences with the various publications that have occupied the majority of my time outside of class, there has been a single recurring source of this frustration: the ability of public officials to hide information that is guaranteed to the public by law. Public records laws say one thing, administrators say another, and the requester loses nearly every time. I believe that a law school education provides my only hope of relief from this metaphorical thorn in my side. While I cannot guarantee my path will not waver— in fact, y ou could say wavering, in one sense, is the only thing my path is guaranteed to do—I am committed to putting all of my efforts toward bringing about positive change in this aspect of the law. Newspapers, media outlets, and civic-minded citizens are refused access to public records every day by officials who have little fear of legal reprisal. I realize one person cannot correct this. I realize few of these requesters have the resources to stage such legal battles. I also realize this certainly is not the most lucrative use of a law degree. This is, however, where my path has led me today, and no force thus far has managed to get between me and my chosen goals.

Review by Nikhil G. Mathews Matt’s essay does a very good job of demonstrating his desire to attend law school by rooting it in his past life experiences. In the process, he reveals much about himself, including his passion for journalism and the nonconformist tendencies he prides himself on. But his essay could have been made stronger by the addition of more colorful anecdotes and less of a linear summation of his résumé. Matt opens his essay by introducing a distinctive trait about himself—daring— that will recur throughout the essay. This is an effective essay -writing tool because it strings together the different parts of his essay into one coherent piece. Matt traces his journalistic successes, which he indicates flow from an ability to navigate unorthodox situations. He provides examples of journalistic victories he won despite seemingly adverse conditions, confirming the consistency and value of his bold approach to life. He should have elaborated on one of these stories, however. He tells us about the “recurring” source of frustration about public records, but leaves the point at that. Discussing one particular example of this, rather than mentioning that he has experienced many of them, would have been more effective. The issue of public records law, however, is a great transition that allows Matt to draw the connection between his career as a journalist and his desire to pursue a law degree. As a journalist frustrated by opaque public records, he has realized the need for improvement of this field of law. In pursuing this disciplined route to demonstrating his reasons for apply ing to law school, Sanchez accomplishes several tasks. First, he demonstrates that his interest in the law is substantive rather than whimsical. He deftly calls attention to his major extracurricular achievements without seeming immodest. Perhaps most importantly he founds the entire essay on his essential trait of nonconformism, which he takes as his defining characteristic. He returns to this fundamental point in his conclusion, looking to the future with confidence that the daring that has produced success thus far will continue to reward him.


The sun glints through my window on a shining San Juan morning, and I bask in the burning embrace of my own sweet light, beaming over Puerto Rico. The sun does indeed strike differently here. I remember the golden Boston sun of my college y ears, which was almost ornamental, emanating hardly any heat and bathing the world below in a shimmering aura, an unreal, fantastical glow. It was not the vibrant light that filled my childhood memories, stark and striking, alway s invigorating. And the pale blue sky was alway s a whispering echo of the turquoise canopy that filled my dreams. And y et today I seek to leave again. Even as I enjoy the savory ty pical Christmas dishes and the balmy weather of the winter months, I know that these things are not enough to make me content. I left Puerto Rico in search of the extraordinary opportunities offered to me as a literature student at Harvard University. And now that I am back, I have started itching from wanderlust again —the prospect of the unknown, of the extraordinary , has alway s been alluring. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” wrote John Donne. “[E]very man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” This was a lesson I learned early on. My taste for traveling and exploring was whetted and nourished primarily through reading as I was growing up. Some of my first memories involve reading fairy tales, my ths, and Bible stories with my mother and three y ounger siblings, sitting at my father’s side as he translated stories into Spanish, or being roused as he came home with a bag full of ten-cent books from the Salvation Army store. In subsequent y ears, I visited many lands and characters through my books; in discovering my passion for words, I lived a thousand lives across time and space. By the time I graduated from high school, my traveling experience transcended my books—I had already been across the United States and to several Latin American countries with my family. I quickly became involved as press director with Harvard Model Congress Europe (HMCE), a conference for high-school students which models different government organizations of international relevance. I found it extremely rewarding to instill a sense of political and social awareness in the students through their coverage of the intricacies of U.S.international relations as simulated by the program. This experience with HMCE also enabled me to travel to Paris and London. Furthermore, in the spring semester

of my junior y ear I moved to Spain to study art history and literature, learning from my coursework, but also from visiting museums; going to the opera, restaurants, and shows; and wandering around the country and joining in the fray of impromptu celebrating. And at the end of the semester, I bought my self a cheap ticket to Rome, taking as my entire capital some four hundred dollars for three weeks. My time away from the island has fundamentally changed the way I perceive my cultural identity vis-à-vis the United States and the Hispanic world. Puerto Ricans claim Hispanic heritage and Spanish as an integral part of our national identity. And y et our links to the rest of the Hispanic community are weak, whereas our infrastructures and our collective fate are intrinsically bound to the United States. I learned more about Latin America away from Puerto Rico by interacting closely with Hispanics from different national backgrounds than I had in all my previous y ears as a student. This strengthened my sense of vocation for law since I realized that as Puerto Ricans we are disenfranchised, that normal democratic channels are not available to us because of our peculiar relationship with the United States. There is still much room for a redefinition of the laws that gird Puerto Rico to the rest of the Union. Today, I am committed to a career in law, but my passion for reading and writing, for the challenging and the intellectually stimulating, for advocacy and politics, had initially marked me for work as a journalist. As a high-school journalist, I was fascinated to learn that language, far from being a mere vehicle of communication, can also serve as a tool for chronicling and shaping history, public opinion, and the policy -making process. In my pursuit of journalism, I was driven by a desire to effect real change in the community through those snappy, juicy little articles I wrote and edited. I thus sought to work for organizations dedicated to raising public awareness of and proposing solutions to the problems and issues which plague our society. Yet an internship at Newsweek , a national magazine, and especially the election coverage I performed for the Associated Press convinced me that I was more interested in the crafting of public policy and law. As I face a change in career paths, away from journalism and toward a legal practice, my continued aim is to craft documents with immediate impact, using my talent as a writer to improve the quality of public life. My work with the press has given me a sense of how public consciousness and opinion can shape the law, and has allowed me to cultivate qualities such as originality, keenness, the ability to work under pressure, and a commitment to the truth. It has also trained my writing specifically for precision and sty le, and so that it can serve as a sharper and finer

tool for public service. Furthermore, my curriculum in college—ranging in courses from literature, foreign cultures and languages, government and history to moral reasoning, economics, religion, and anthropology —has given me analy tical prowess and solid research skills. I want to use these skills more directly by being involved in politics and policy making through a legal career. In the words of a Puerto Rican folk song, my heart stay ed by the sea in Old San Juan, by the placid Caribbean shores. For now there is time, I feel, time for a hundred visions and revisions, to explore and learn, before I need to settle down. Eventually, however, I would like to return to Puerto Rico, using my talent and my education to forge significant social change and to improve the cultural and economic landscape on the island by bettering the international networks between the island and the rest of the world. Review by Katherine M. Gray Dharma discusses five different experiences that make her a good applicant: her reading, her international experience, her interest in United States–Puerto Rico interactions, her experience with the model congress, and her journalism career. Any one of these would make a fine essay, but she offers too little information about each of them by try ing to incorporate them all. She probably felt she had to explain why her interest in law school and her experience did not match up, why she chose journalism internships and the model congress rather than legal internships or a mock trial. Dharma’s essay could have been much stronger had she focused on her thoughts and passions about Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. government, perhaps including a personal anecdote. She could then have discussed her involvement in the model congress, thus leading up to her interest in international law. While mentioning her passion for journalism may show her writing skills, it is something apparent in her CV and thus could be set aside to make room to expound on her other qualities. Dharma should also be careful with the two quotes she incorporates in her essay ; they ’re dy namic, but she doesn’t fully explain their relevance—a single quote better tied to her theme would have worked far better.

Throughout my secondary -school and college careers, I cultivated parallel analy tical and creative interests. At Harvard, this led to my decision to double

major in classics and studio art. In some cases, the pursuit of two such disparate disciplines might limit one’s ability to explore either in depth. On the contrary, I found that maintaining a serious interest in each of these two areas made me a more successful student in both. My two successful honors theses, with interconnected themes, were evidence of this. After graduating in 2001, I decided to focus on either an analy tical or a creative course of action. As the path of graduate studies in Greek did not satisfy my need to interact with the world outside of an institution, I resolved to explore the implications of my painting thesis. Thus, I moved to San Francisco, where I joined several Harvard friends in a large live/work warehouse and set up a studio there. My time in San Francisco was fruitful. I developed a strong body of work, which I showed in five exhibitions. I also produced a large art project for the Burning Man arts festival, which takes place in the Nevada desert each August. In order to supplement my income from painting sales, I worked for SparkNotes as a writer/editor and for Cy berEdit as an editor. These jobs allowed me to maintain and develop my analy tical writing skills. I also tutored three high-school students in writing for one y ear. After a y ear and a half in San Francisco, I y earned to return to the intensity of the East Coast. In early 2003, I moved to Brookly n, where I painted at a far more advanced level than I had done before. However, while my immersion in the New York art world was a boon to the quality of my work, it also gave me pause as to the direction of my chosen career. Though I read feverishly as alway s, I found that I still lacked for adequate intellectual stimulation. Furthermore, outside events compelled me to look bey ond my studio walls. I closely followed both the developments in Iraq and the domestic implications of the Patriot Act. The dissonance between my interests and my actions pushed me to a turning point: I decided to reconsider going to law school. While my passion for painting has not lessoned, I know that I cannot happily work away in my studio while such radical changes are taking place in this country. I have the intellectual acuity and analy tical training to engage the field of constitutional law; I know that nothing else will satisfy my desire to actualize my potential in the world. After spending two y ears pursuing the nonacademic path, I am keen to tear back into a rigorous course of study with far-reaching implications. Review by Katherine M. Gray Cockburn has written a tight and compelling personal statement which could be improved with anecdotes or concrete examples that she has a multifaceted

intellect. The reader can glean most of the intriguing details described in the essay from her résumé. The essay is straightforward and reads smoothly, but it fails to give the reader a sense of her personality and personal experience. Cockburn has an interesting point to make, but she takes too many paragraphs to reach it. Her essay is strongest when she writes that she is not exercising her talents to the fullest as an artist and wants to engage in political and constitutional discourse. Refocusing the essay along these lines and giving the reader a couple [of] moments or examples to support her claims would make for a stronger essay . Although there is limited space in her personal statement, even giving more details about her artwork, the festival in Nevada, and her previous job experience would make for more lively and interesting writing.

Power has alway s fascinated me. As far back as I can remember, I have struggled to understand what it is, how it is assumed, and the way s in which it is wielded. My first y ears at Barnard College were spent in try ing to change the power imbalances I saw around me. I immersed my self in a variety of activities both on and off campus. I helped to found the first women-of-color house on campus; helped to organize black Barnard women’s participation in the Million Woman March, the Jericho Movement for political prisoners, and the campus campaign to end the embargo against Cuba, as well as working as a mentor and tutor with children in the Harlem community. My involvement in campus and community politics forced me to see the political nature of the difference between the luxury of my Ivy League institution and the dissipation of the surrounding Harlem community. My courses tended to interpret these differences in solely racial terms, rely ing heavily on the experiences of African Americans in the United States as the basis of a generalized worldview. A y ear abroad at the University of Ghana during my junior y ear dramatically altered my understanding of power relations. It had been easy to accept oppression as a racialized experience while in the United States. However, faced with the overwhelming poverty of the majority of Ghanaians, a tiny black elite, and a political sy stem engineered to keep that small minority in power, I could no longer buy simplistic arguments that pitted race against race. I began to understand that societal divisions were fundamentally based on access to resources, and that race was only one potential factor in determining access. While I have experienced discrimination as a black woman, for the first time I could not deny that my American passport alone afforded me access to spheres bey ond the reach of most

Ghanaians, such as free primary and secondary education. As I studied the economic history and development of Ghana, I learned more about the roles international forces had play ed in shaping national economic and political policies. Up until that point, my understanding of the power of international bodies to effect national policy formation had been relatively limited. As an American citizen, I had never experienced the harsh realities of structural adjustment plans handed down by extranational bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank. A brutal example of this during my stay was the University of Ghana ending its free tuition program for Ghanaian students. Watching the student protests against the Ghanaian government, I was unable to choose sides, as it became clear that the restructuring of the university sy stem was not in the hands of the national leaders. Rather, it was a directive of international agencies that, as a condition to guaranteeing the aid and trade so critical to Ghana’s economic survival, demanded the implementation of their development agendas. Learning about the politics of international relations helped me to understand the frustration I had often felt as a student organizer at Barnard, where I rarely saw the tangible change that I was struggling for. While grassroots movements are effective on a local level, without the force of an international body behind them, they cannot move the international political and economic mechanisms by which wealth and rights are allocated. It is now clear to me that, as the world becomes increasingly globalized, those who are able to lobby for and effectuate policy change from an international level will be the most critical in determining the direction of national change and in establishing it. To this end, I am interested in study ing law. I would like to study, and to one day have a hand in shaping, the policies that govern the interaction of international bodies with national governments. Going away helped me to understand that my commitment to equalizing the power imbalance—of international bodies and national governments; of human rights prerogatives and economic agendas—must be coupled with the ability to move within and understand the workings of the global structures that determine it. Review by Lois E. Beckett Dana’s essay is a terrific example of how to showcase y our diversity while presenting y ourself as far more than just another minority candidate. Being an African American woman is clearly an important part of Dana’s identity and is worth writing about. But rather than making that identity the sole focus of her essay, she places it within the broader context of power relations and shows how

her self-understanding evolved during a trip abroad. This essay draws its strength from its careful organization. The essay opens with the powerful first line, “Power has alway s fascinated me,” and never loses sight of that theme. We are first introduced to power at the intersection of race and politics in America. But her introduction to Ghanaian society shows Dana a power inequality that has nothing to do with race, and forces her to reconsider whether black Americans are disadvantaged on a worldwide scale. From there, Dana transitions smoothly to a broader consideration of power on a national and international level in Ghana, as demonstrated by the IMF’s pressure on the Ghanaian education sy stem. Rather than lambast the IMF, Dana takes a nuanced stance and places her desire to study law within the context of international power relations: she wants to understand, and ultimately change, these organizations. Any one can say they want to eliminate power imbalances, but Dana’s treatment of the topic is proof she has considered the issue and will be an effective advocate for constructive change. Writing about how y our most fundamental ideas have changed is a great essay topic. It shows admissions officers that y ou are perceptive and able to think critically about y our own experiences, while also giving them a sense of y our worldview. If, as Dana did, y ou can tie all this together with why y ou want to be a lawy er, y ou have a recipe for a successful essay .

Rwanda wasn’t supposed to be real . I had studied the 1994 genocide in Rwanda fervently in the hope of discovering whether societal recovery was possible. The scenario in Rwanda seemed to be the ultimate test of human resilience. But thinking about a phenomenon is not the same as picturing it. May be it is too far away conceptually to be tangible. Ultimately, all of my background knowledge could not have adequately prepared me for the complexity of the situation on the ground. My first impression of Rwanda is that it looks like any other place I have ever been. The drive into Kigali overwhelms me; it is a bustling capital city in every sense. Having lived in a small town in Tanzania for a while, I am startled. I see a streetlight and realize I have not seen one in three months. There are French restaurants, a movie theater, and excellent roads. And there are so many people. The high population density of Rwanda is something that I have read about, y et have trouble grasping. I expected to see a decimated society. But even outside Kigali, navigating the winding roads of rural Rwanda, there are people every where —farming, riding bikes, loitering. The number of children under the age of eight is

particularly remarkable to me. I wonder if they are products of rape, or orphans. Or is there just a natural desire to replenish society after such devastation? Staring at these children, there is something missing. Usually when y ou smile at children, they smile back. These do not, not easily. I am curious [about] how much they know about their past. As day s pass, my preconceptions continue to be invalidated. Initially, I was intellectually attracted to the Rwandan genocide precisely because it seemed straightforward, with identifiable “good guy s” and “bad guy s.” The Tutsis, being the victims and the victors, were obviously the “good guy s.” The current Tutsidominated regime faces unprecedented challenges in rebuilding a shattered society, and is granted moral authority and wide latitude in doing so. The Hutus, having followed their leaders to bloody, unfathomable extremes, were obviously the “bad guy s.” While hundreds of thousands of perpetrators are incarcerated, the remainder of the population is encouraged to reconcile. However, now I find there is more to the story ; for the first time, I am exposed to the non–politically correct edition. When Rwandans talk about the past, they generally refer to “the war” rather than “the genocide,” because the events of 1994 are not isolated in their minds. A my riad of unspoken, complicated nuances of discourse has emerged to avoid assumptions. For example, speaking to someone in English shows y ou think they are Tutsi, raised in Uganda, and affiliated with the current government. Likewise, the innocent question “Where are y ou from?” cannot be answered without alluding to the individual’s role in the genocide. If the answer is any where in Rwanda, it raises the question of how he or she survived. The most common nuance of discourse is silence, but the sheer silence of the majority speaks volumes. The critical thinker in me begins to realize the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the extreme versions. The heralded current regime appears not to be as angelic as depicted. Evidence has surfaced that its armed forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war and ensuing refugee crisis. To this day, basic human rights are routinely abused and independent thought stifled. Political opponents, labeled “divisionists,” are deprived of due process; international observers question the fairness of elections; and eight y ears after extremist radio incited a population to genocide, there is still only one radio station in the country. Clearly the current government is the “good guy ” relative to the extremists who presided over genocide. However, the fact that the regime can still be so “bad” naturally lends credence to its opponents. Both sides have their share of saints and demons, and the vast majority of the population cannot afford the luxury of “sides,” as it struggles for survival. Now I can appreciate why there has

been no history curriculum taught in the nation’s schools for the last decade. Joseph, my interpreter here, is one of many Rwandan victims. He is a friend of a friend and a recent law graduate from the National University. Joseph is also a genocide survivor, one of the few Tutsis I met who was actually in Rwanda in 1994. His reserve and cautious nature, though understandable, make me uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I am impressed by Joseph. He speaks freely and criticizes the status quo, both rare practices in Rwanda. He does so not with passion or zeal, but with a sincere thoughtfulness that is compelling. He refuses to join the survivors’ organizations in Rwanda because, after suffering discrimination for so many y ears, he vows never to inflict it on any one else. Although I find my self wondering why there cannot be more Josephs in Rwanda, may be it is for the best. For all his ideals and compassion, Joseph has no hope. He fears an impending return to conflict, seeks to escape his people’s cy clical fate, and refuses to expose any future children to such a society . Now that Rwanda is real to me, I consider Joseph’s pessimism. I aspire to find the best way forward, and y et, like him, I wonder if there is any hope. I do not expect law school to make every thing simple again, but I do seek to gain tools and perspective with which to respond to such pessimism. Joseph is a “good guy,” and he wants out. That does not bode well for Rwanda. Review by Kenneth Saathoff This is an extremely gripping essay from the very first sentence, which plunges us into the author’s puzzlement and distress over the Rwanda situation. The essay continues with clear, well-crafted sentences that are both insightful and evocative. Regina’s story is engrossing, and her use of the present tense allows us to experience with her; to almost watch Kigali unfold before us. By showing us how her preconceived notions were continually proved untrue, she showed us the value of actually traveling to Rwanda, rather than simply study ing it from an academic standpoint. She shows a keen ey e for observing her surroundings, as illustrated by her comment on the unsmiling children. Regina understands the horrors of the genocide, but also presents herself as a sophisticated thinker and analy st. Without overlooking the Hutus’ crimes, she recognizes shades of gray and searches for meaning within that context. In what makes up the strongest part of the essay, she examines the way contemporary society has been affected by the genocide, and how even asking simple questions brings up an awkwardness that would be unexpected by outsiders. Her sentence “The most common nuance of discourse is silence, but the sheer silence of the

majority speaks volumes” is extremely powerful, making a unique connection and clearly painting a picture of the environment. She wraps up the essay with a strong conclusion, as Joseph’s perceptions of his country, in the context of [Regina’s] entire visit to Rwanda, lead to her revealing the nature of her interest in the law. An “I want to go to law school because…” sentence is rendered unnecessary —the body of the essay has already answered that question.

“Kenny , y ou’re going to hell!” It was just before I started college, and my recently “born-again” childhood friend, Leonard, was absolutely serious—he believed I was destined to eternal damnation because I did not share his newly embraced faith. My reaction reflected what I now know to have been a significant deficiency in my intellectual maturity : it was easier to dismiss Leonard as an irrational sub-intellectual than to allow any consideration of or respect for his beliefs. Though I regret it now, we didn’t speak again for five y ears. My reaction to Leonard’s profession of absolute faith was not unique. In fact, this sort of intellectual immaturity is most often excused—even championed—as intellectual sophistication. “We” are enlightened, while “they ” are provincial, so we need only to ignore them. It was possible to ignore those with passionate religious beliefs right up until a criminal few crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center as a misguided expression of faith. At college I began to actually listen for the first time to the sandwich-boarded evangelist screaming and frothing near the post office. I stopped closing my blinds and ducking when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door. I resisted the urge to politely pretend I didn’t notice the pray er rug my friend Ibrahim kept under his bed. I developed an insatiable thirst to ask all these people, “Why do y ou do it?” The mistake of ignoring Leonard, coupled with subsequent world events, taught me that a full understanding of the human condition requires an examination of religious fealty as much as it requires the study of economic or biological imperatives. My undergraduate y ears broadened the scope of my inquiries, but left me needing to know much more. An in-depth study of religion in an international context seemed my best next step, so I spent a y ear at the University of Edinburgh Divinity School in Scotland with the idea that I might pursue a Ph.D. As I trekked daily through icy cobbled streets past statues of David Hume and John Knox, I considered the great variety

of knowledge cultivated in that birthplace of the Enlightenment, and I realized that a focus on religion would be too narrow. What interests me is not religion per se, but its intersection with secular life. How does a society allow freedom and tolerance of religious expression while ensuring that religious practice does not interfere with the rights of others? It is this question that has brought me to the doorstep of Harvard Law School. It is the law—separate from y et cognizant of religious passion—that strikes this balance. To fully understand the potential impact of human zeal, religious or otherwise, I need an understanding of sy stems of law and government, and how the law is intended and implemented to influence human behavior. Religion is but one of many variables explaining human conduct; it is the law that must take all of these variables into account, singularly and in relation to one another. I could attend any number of law schools to simply prepare my self for the practice of law, but Harvard is one of very few institutions at which I could become a true legal scholar. Harvard’s collegial atmosphere allows students and faculty to focus on a cooperative pursuit of knowledge, rather than on destructive competition. Harvard’s programs in legal and constitutional history and external studies would prepare me for a possible career in academia, while Harvard’s principles and practice program and broad array of classes and clinics would equip me to succeed wherever my interests lead, from corporate ethics, to a government advisory position, to the prosecution of perpetrators of religious genocide. Leonard and I met again last month at a mini-reunion. I was delighted both to learn that he has moderated his voice and to share how I have grown since our last encounter. That our friendship has revived shows that the future is full of unexpected developments, and that those intellectually and spiritually prepared are in a position to take advantage of them. The preparation for a career and for life provided by Harvard Law would enable me to meet my future with intellectual maturity and a desire to pursue the truth to the benefit of both my self and society . Review by Sarah McKetta The first line of this piece is a great one—it engages the reader and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the essay. The author’s voice really comes through: this essay is easy going and conversational, not stiff and academic. It is written as if it is designed to be read aloud, an attribute y ou should strive for in y our essay. This makes the story entertaining for the reader, and gets its point across well. The topic is well chosen. By discussing a mistake he made in judging his friend, Kenneth demonstrates a capacity to accept and learn from his mistakes. By using

this example, he highlights his personal attributes without ever naming them explicitly. This is a hallmark of a strong essay : show y our strengths through examples, rather than simply telling us them. And while his accounts of meeting Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Muslim friend demonstrate his strength of character, they do not come at the expense of including any academic information—he still goes into detail about his Ph.D. program. But again, the program is not mentioned as simply another notch in his belt; rather, it explains his jump from a student of divinity to one of law. As y ou write y our essay, be sure to make it come full circle, as Kenneth does. Just as the piece begins with his friend Leonard, so too does it end with him. We have followed Kenneth through several y ears of development, and he has demonstrated that he is a changed man.

The experience that has probably had the most significant impact on how I view the world and my place in it was my nine-month deploy ment to the former Yugoslavia from 1995 to 1996. My military police unit was attached to the NATO Implementation Force designed to enforce the provisions of the Day ton Peace Accords. My initial reaction was far from enthusiastic: not only did I question the value and wisdom of sending American soldiers to keep the peace in a part of the world that had decided to tear itself apart, but I had also grown up among Vietnam veterans, my father having broken his back in an accident that ended up saving him from being sent to Hamburger Hill. This military experience tends to make one cy nical to say the least. I was an M60 gunner, the one sticking out of the top of the Humvee. The gunner is a favorite of snipers and the first one to be picked off in a firefight, and I have to admit to a certain level of fear and selfishness when I considered the prospect that the peace was only temporary and that the Yugoslav combatants would decide to demoralize our forces by slowly picking away at our troops in the same fashion as the Vietnamese or the Somalis who wanted us out of their countries. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of dy ing, as real as that fear was. It was more that I was afraid of dy ing for nothing or for the wrong thing. As the deploy ment drew closer, the talk of whether our leaders knew what they were doing and if they had any idea of what we were going through dominated our conversation. Upon arriving in Croatia and while performing my duties there and in Bosnia, I was struck by several things. The first was the level of poverty. My American imagination was completely inadequate to prepare me for the desperate living

conditions of many of these people. Intrinsic poverty was widespread enough, and the war had only made things worse. To me, poverty meant trailer parks and government assistance programs, but for the people in Croatia and Bosnia poverty meant no running water (with every discomfort that entails) and growing y our own food. Piled on top of this of course was the destruction: as I drove through one town I could see how somebody in the hills to my right had used his position to reduce the village on my left to rubble. I was frequently saddened by the lingering hostility I witnessed in survivors and became starkly aware of my sheltered experience. It’s easy and common for Americans to judge others for ethnic hostility , but most modern Americans can scarcely imagine the ethnic tensions and fears associated with living within close proximity of people whom y ou know or suspect want y ou dead because of y our race or religion. All of which is to say that I was wrong. Wrong about the mission being a waste of time, wrong about it not being worth risking the lives of people foreign to the conflict, and mostly just wrong about it being none of my business. I realized that most of the victims of the conflict were innocent by standers and that the popular “Let them kill each other” logic associated with noninvolvement failed to take this into account. I also realized that America and our allies were in a unique position to positively influence world affairs, and that to passively observe a slaughter, as we in the West tend to do, is to waste an opportunity to use our position to help people other than ourselves. It occurred to me that it is utterly hy pocritical of us to speak of American leadership and at the same time be afraid of exercising the responsibility and taking the risks that come with leadership. In other words, NATO had arrived in Yugoslavia two y ears too late, and I found my self not only eager for my mission, but regretful that I had not arrived earlier. This experience, besides clarify ing and widening my understanding of the world I live in, fanned the flames of a nascent interest in international policy and foreign affairs. Having witnessed the consequences of failed diplomacy and international cooperation, I have committed my self to a career in international law so that I might someday play a part in helping the international community prevent such tragedies and [so that I might] have a hand in bringing war criminals to justice. The experience and knowledge I would gain from a legal education at Harvard would be an invaluable contribution to my goal, and I would embrace the opportunities and challenges presented to me should I be accepted. Whichever road I take, I intend to do every thing I can to ensure that in the future no American soldier will have to see the look on someone’s face that say s, “You’re too late.” Review by Brittney L. Moraski

Though this applicant’s opening could have been rewritten to sound less generic and tentative, his essay is interesting and engaging because of the uniqueness of his experience. While many applicants may write of their desire to work to bring justice to war-torn parts of the world, this applicant has actual experience of doing so, which he wisely highlights in his essay. In his way, he is able to separate himself from other applicants, and his essay gives the admissions committee an idea of what his contributions would be like in the classroom. Not many students, for instance, are likely to have the experience of being the “favorite of snipers and the first one to be picked off in a firefight.” The weaknesses in this essay come not from its content but from its structure. The opening could be reworked to grab the reader’s attention more quickly (additionally, the “probably ” in the first sentence is unnecessary, muddling up the development of the essay ), and the ending comes on a little too quickly to make the strong impact the applicant had intended. Applicants with unique experiences to write about should employ anecdotes rather than descriptions in their essay to make a stronger impression, which this applicant could also use more to his advantage. Because the essay is a rare opportunity to inject a personal element into the admissions process, it is important to include details and experiences that will make it easier for the admissions committee to see an applicant not as a collection of adjectives, but as a real person.

It would be easy to say that living and traveling in the Middle East taught me what poverty is or what war is. And, from a certain point of view, it would be true. It was in Egy pt that I saw real, crushing poverty for the first time. It was in Beirut that I saw entire blocks desiccated by shelling, and it was in Jerusalem that I saw a city inundated by a military presence, coping with a daily string of casualties on all sides. However, if that was all I came away with, I would be doing the people and the region a horrible disservice. There were also wedding parties that filled the streets with people and music and laughter, beautifully rebuilt districts next to monuments of staggering antiquity, and hundreds of people moved to tears by the presence of the Western Wall or the Dome of the Rock or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I spent most of my y ear abroad study ing in Cairo, and it was Cairo that left the greatest impression of all. A lot of people have written a lot of things about Cairo. Usually , they emphasize the bustle, the activity , the sheer energy the place exudes. My own accounts are hardly different. Here’s what I wrote late one night in my

apartment on the outskirts of Giza: “It should be jarring to have a Chili’s and an Applebee’s in a city where ten thousand mosques sound the call to pray er five times a day and where ancient monuments tower just out of sight. But it’s not. Instead, it just contributes to a sense of place stronger and more moving than any I’ve felt in cities more beautiful, but less distinct.” It was this contrast of old and the new, Western and Eastern, that really captured me. I went to Egy pt with little idea of what to expect; in the wake of September 11, the Middle East was relevant and exciting. By the time I left a y ear later, I was in love. I read voraciously about the region’s politics and culture and history. I devoted my self to Arabic, signing up for a class on Islamic texts. In short, I learned that not only did I want to work with the Middle East, but also that I had become intertwined with it. At around the same time, I began to develop an interest in international rights law, particularly as it relates to humanitarian crises and refugee flows. As an intern at the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, I researched the problems pertaining to refugee wom

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