I uploaded a copy of my Personal Statement to mediafire in a public folder to ensure less clutter here and avoid formatting issues here. Please feel free to send me private messages for comment or suggestions or respond below. I am open to suggestions on how I can revise this to be less lengthy too.
An unworn graduation robe still hangs in my closet. I still remember graduation day. I put on a fake smile and tried to hide my tears and deepest emotions. My seventy-five year old grandma in the local nursing home was looking forward to seeing me graduate high school before she died. The local paper printed my name as one of the top 10 students with over a 4.0 GPA. Only no one would ever see me walk across the stage at graduation.
I'm what they like to call a statistic, not in homes, but in schools. Two teachers abused me in high school. They were eventually granted powers to evaluate and decide a graduation project mandate with a subjective decision making process. Up until this point, I effectively avoided most of this environment by enrolling in college in lieu of both of my junior and senior year of high school. Forgoing much of the high school experience allowed me to experience something rare to me, educators who took great interest in their students. I found this to be such an encouraging academic setting that I took advantage of the college honors program and completed two honors projects under the supervision of college faculty, earning the highest allotted college honors. Nevertheless, I was up against a graduation challenge, something that ignored my past success. These high school teachers had the ultimate power to deny my graduation, and as my graduation rapidly approached, my dream, my grandmother's dream of seeing me graduate would be compromised.
The graduation project required some form of substantive work experience with a short reflective paper and a presentation, something not out of the ordinary from my abilities as demonstrated through my college level success. However, in order to start the project, it had to be preapproved by the teachers; a process that I quickly learned would be the plummet to my fate. The conclusive denial or response required for preapproval came over six months from my original submission. While my twin sister received her response almost immediately, I noticed unequal treatment when my sister could build a doll house for a project, a friend could train a dog, and another student could belly dance. Yet when it came to my proposal, as someone who wanted to learn about the judicial system and who was coordinating with a law firm and judge's office to get an exclusive look at the justice system, my project somehow was not good enough. After failed resubmission with the extended months of delay between denials, the promise that my ailing grandmother would see me graduate seemed all the less likely.
It was difficult to come to terms with the idea that I even as a 4.0 student seated to be in the top ten for graduation, could be denied a high school diploma. People walked through my graduation visitation wondering why I was not in the ceremony pictures. Ask a 4.0 student who has done college honors what they call themselves after their graduation denial and you know the feeling I had to experience. I wondered what I had done deserving of such a fate or to be made an example of to discourage students from enrolling in the college program at a time when the reaction of high school teachers was to shun out-of-high school experiences. Throughout the battles in unanswered complaints to school officials and designated government agencies, I finally received a general diploma from my school district. Although it will never take the place of walking across the stage at graduation or receiving a diploma from my high school, nothing could have taken the place of how I felt through this experience. Some people are often surprised to hear that the "system" did not work better for me and that no disciplinary or teaching ethics case ever resulted. While I was refining my paper for a childhood history class examining the legal history of corporal punishment in American schools, I came to understand how I could use my career to help children like me who struggle with these systems. I took notice of the issue of rights to dignified treatment of children. It struck me that the philosophers responsible for our legal theories did not include children in their conception of liberties. Locke did not consider children were parties to this social contract since they were not rational beings. John Stewart Mill conversely noted that even though children are not rational beings, parents, guardians, and other adults have a responsibility for ensuring their protection; he considered children have a positive right to protection. Nevertheless, Courts today still struggle and even disagree in different jurisdictions as to the rights or protections children hold. Without effective counsel and advocacy, the rights of children can effortlessly be trampled between a system that struggles to define where children fit in the law and a government that struggles to reason when it should enforce protections. It was through unfair, unjustified, and unconscionable circumstances that I realized one day I could use my career to bring changes to this system by ensuring protections of students within these systems.
More and more schools are crafting subjective projects or service based project mandates, but they are short on ways to prevent misuses or abuses, or even admit teachers, the deciders of these vital projects, do have dispositions and biases, some worse than others, and this is usually the very reason why objective forms or measures are routinely scrutinized to ensure opportunity. The risk in these ultimate decisions is that without an objective standpoint in which you can judge a variety of experiences, amassing power to centralized bodies, or even one or two individuals who might not understand yet where their failures are as educators, or who are power seekers for less obvious reasons, creates a perfect storm for underrepresented groups to be subjected to less obvious but systematic denials of equal opportunity. The solution is ensuring positive rights to protections of children by not just ethics codes grasping the concept of positive rights to protect children, but also teaching teachers effective dispositions for working with students in the first place.
As I grew to understand my experience more, I researched ethics codes in various states. I found that not all seem to be written to manage teacher dispositions. The state that caught my attention was Ohio. Ohio not only has prosecutors lined up to take on education related criminal cases, they also have a form for referrals between ethics boards and prosecutors, cutting through bureaucracy and perhaps decreasing much distress these children and families face. The state has a searchable database of all ethics cases, holding teachers to a higher standard with complaints or public records of complaints being available much like attorney ethics records are public and often searchable. In this proactive way, not only does the state keep count of when and where these cases arise, but sooner or later if one teacher or school is raking in several complaints, it serves as the alarm signal for further investigations.
We have cases of children suffocating in classroom cell holdings smaller than prisons without adequate ventilation or light and there are even special needs children dying from physical positions that restrict their breathing and even though there are prudent non-life threatening alternatives, unions and lawyers defend these practices -to the death. These life experiences helped me see that the protections and rights of children is a legal principle, one not only worth fighting for, but one in which I feel empowered to fight for even when it is unpopular. There will not always be people lining up behind me to take on government. They would rather not blink at atrocities occurring within their systems. The way I see it, this is the perfect job for me.
A variety of challenges mark my life experiences and pain touches everyone. With the compounding effects of disability, disease, and family tragedy, I had a variety of health issues affect and even impair my education for some time in 2007. A close uncle died after a debilitating fight with cancer and one month apart the same day my maternal grandmother died as well. My support system became compromised as my twin sister, who suffers from Celiac Disease, a degenerative digestive disease marked by intolerance of gluten and other food allergies became increasing ill and required hospitalization to manage severe pain, inability to eat and digest foods and for other related cancer diagnostic testing. Health Professionals diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and Chronic Neck and Back Pain. In the chaos of attempting to deal with the anxiety over satisfying high school officials, completing the graduation project with people who affected my well-being began eroding my physical and mental health and affecting my college performance. This took the form of increased absences and inability to study and concentrate on course requirements, with the need for prescription medicines. Recognizing that my deteriorating physical and mental health were significantly affecting my ability to pursue life activities, I elected with consultation of college officials and professors incomplete grades and later successfully petitioned for medical withdrawal with then medical records showing deteriorated health and substantial outside family tragedies.
As I transitioned to Hamline, I required a part-time schedule adjustment for health reasons. I also required individual permission to use a laptop computer to type notes owing to a decline in my physical condition, which resulted from a chronic back pain diagnosis to both a chronic neck and chronic back pain diagnosis. The pain I experienced was so bad it was difficult to speak. After weeks of screening, including evaluation by occupational medicine which typically evaluates worker's compensation cases, I provided my university with appropriate documentation reflecting more than one doctor's recommendation that I limit the course load, use a laptop and that a reasonable accommodation be granted for attendance or assignments missed for medical purposes. Because I was not affluent, I could not afford college without the extra financial support. Students becoming medically incapable of attending full-time would have their honors scholarships or university aid canceled when they adjusted their schedules to part-time. After being denied accommodations and even receiving in writing that the university does not adjust financial aid even on account of medical circumstances since it is not a matter of university policy to provide aid to part-time students, I realized the reasoning did not make sense. In the crosshairs of bureaucracy and inappropriate denials of accommodations, the university placed me on academic probation or some form of warning. Realizing the information I received sounded incorrect, I contacted the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and discussed the difficulty that I was experiencing in getting requested accommodations, including to go part time with adjusted financial aid accommodation. Shortly after, the Office for Civil Rights began an investigation and did so with staff explaining concern how easily a denial of any aid to part-time students could affect a variety of students with protected rights that the Office enforces. An investigation commenced and resulted in an Early Complaint Resolution with expunged data and physical removal of the data from university records, including the probation or form of warning provided. While this may not require disclosure, in an effort to ensure proper disclosure, including of errors or expunged information, I decided to include this with my application. Based on this finding, the Early Complaint Resolution also resulted in a financial aid accommodation and a brand new university policy complying with the federal law and allowing accommodations for students with disabilities. With good medical care I am back to no need for accommodations. I have been very responsive to Chiropractic Care in a Maximized Living program; my overall health improved dramatically which resulted in a dramatic decrease in medicines and dramatic x-rays showing positive changes and validating improved quality of life.
Statement on CLEO Program
As an alumnus of the federally funded TRIO Upward Bound program, I have strong interests in programs that can provide connections and support. I have participated in the Council on Legal Education Opportunity program seminars and found them to be very well organized and helpful. I also have applied to the 2010 CLEO Summer Institute. I believe that the CLEO program will provide me an excellent opportunity for growth before and during my experience in law school, besides offering valuable networking opportunities and connections.
I'm what they like to call a statistic, not in homes, but in schools.
The term "a statistic" usually refers to somebody who is a high-school dropout or a drug addict or a victim of violence. Starting in this way leads the reader to believe that something very different than what you write is coming.
Two teachers abused me in high school.
Again, this is misleading. It seems you were treated unfairly. "Abuse" tends to be reserved for sexual or physical abuse. Unless you are saying that teachers who sexually or physically abused you were then allowed to decide whether or not you would graduate, choose a different word.
The only other way that I can conceive wording this introduction to a description of unfair treatment as you have -- "abuse" "statistic" -- is if the unfair treatment was an expression of some form of bias. It can't be race or gender, since your twin sister was treated better. Sexual orientation, perhaps? If you faced persecution on that account, had to leave school to avoid it, and were still oppressed by unequal graduation requirements, that would be worth stating explicitly. Otherwise, you need to tone down the introduction and significantly reduce the tone of grievance that runs through the recitation of your struggles with the graduation requirement.
You say that you want to cut length. I can tell that this experience is still very sore for you and, as people do when they are still very anguished by something, you go on and on, giving far too many details and losing the reader's interest in the process. That's a shame, because your commitment to children's rights law is sincere and unique. Don't let it get lost in the shuffle.
Similarly, you need to be more concise in describing the special circumstances. In cutting down, stay with the facts and keep your tone even. You do not want to inadvertently sound like someone the school has to worry will complain or even sue the moment things don't go her way. What I'm talking about here is tone: You can pitch this as a victory for people with disabilities about which you feel proud or you can pitch it as one more in a series of endless grievances that will undoubtedly continue wherever you go.
In summary, you've experienced difficulties in both high school and college. Instead of stressing those difficulties in a tone of complaint, stress your successful resolution of them in a tone of confident pride. And, again, if there was some identifiable reason for the differential treatment you received in high school, say so. Otherwise, tone down the language in which you introduce those difficulties.