I'm worried this won't be memorable enough, and at 800 words, it's half a page longer than UCLA and UWashington want it. I may be too hard or myself, or not. Any advice would be reallllyyy helpful.
Walking towards the front porch of a weathered, unkempt home in Baytown, Texas, I had unrealistic expectations. Interning with the non-profit group Environment Texas, I was tasked with enlisting residents to sign on as plaintiffs against ExxonMobil, who operated a series of refineries within eyesight of the neighborhood.
These people were getting sick in alarming numbers and would surely be as outraged at the oil companies as I was. Looking back, I realize it was the man in this Baytown home who would help me discover that the world doesn’t always operate as some idealistic college junior thinks it should. In doing so, he would inspire me to seek the career in law that I’m determined to pursue today.
Home for me is a predictable suburb in Humble, Texas where cul-de-sacs and minivans are the norm and most of the houses look the same. Thanks to a mother who made it her mission to help me realize how fortunate my upbringing was, we volunteered at the Houston Food Bank, canvassed for politicians in low-income neighborhoods, and participated in a Meals on Wheels program for local seniors each Thanksgiving. I’d meet forgotten Army veterans and women who survived the Great Depression, hear their stories and vowed to someday relay them professionally as a journalist.
Many of them lived in struggling neighborhoods like Baytown. As I knocked on the front door of that first home, I practiced my spiel: Baytown lived one mile downwind from the huge numbers of toxic chemicals pumped into the air every year, well beyond the levels permitted by the Clean Air Act. By signing onto the lawsuit, we could fix it.
The door burst open and the man inside introduced himself as Alvaro. He was nearing 60 and wore a disarmingly warm smile, and I had barely said a word before he invited me inside. I sat in his living room thinking it was an unusually warm reception for being a complete stranger. I noticed the dozens of picture frames adorning the walls and mantle, as well as the silence in the rest of the home.
“He’s probably just lonely,” I thought. He soon told me that he was.
I told him about the pollutants hemorrhaging into the air at illegal levels, raising the risk for countless health issues. He told me how his wife had passed away two years prior due to lung cancer despite never smoking a cigarette in her life, and how he just knew it was something else. He also said that he works for these same refineries, and has for decades.
I informed him that my employer had sued Chevron a year ago and achieved great results; they paid a fine and funded an environmental awareness program for a nearby school, where they also built some new solar panels. If he joined our lawsuit, we could achieve something similar.
Looking back, I can see how little any of that would have consoled a man who’d lost his wife and would potentially have to risk his livelihood. He pretended to weigh my offer, then offered a kind smile and thanked me for my time.
I didn’t understand. Shouldn’t everyone want the bad guys to be punished? But only after reflection did I see the real message I was giving: there are laws for the rich and laws for everyone else, and they can be openly thwarted with just a throwaway fine and a slap on the wrist. This may or may not be true, but even the perception that fairness and justice are rendered only to those fortunate enough to buy it makes it real to people like Alvaro. And because the poor often have inadequate access to the legal system, little is ever done to change their minds.
While a seemingly inconsequential encounter, that day in Baytown has motivated me to become one of the many hard-working lawyers who advocate social justice regardless of income, race or creed. Given the opportunity, I would assure Alvaro that despite entering in a lawsuit against his employer, his job would be safe. By giving him a just reward, or someday working directly in the legislature to craft more decent laws that would prevent the Baytown crisis from ever occurring, I would prove that the law still seeks to uphold human dignity.
As president of my campus’ environmental club, I’ve constantly striven to be a good steward of the planet. I desired to work as a journalist for years. But the “why” of it -- good-natured but hazy notions of wanting to “help people” -- was vague and conceptual. Now I’ve realized that by protecting and arguing more forcefully for the environmental and public interest laws that we have, I can ensure that everyone, blue-collar worker included, can be legally empowered.
Perhaps I’m still as idealistic as I’ve ever been, but I believe this all still has a place in our legal system.