Personal Statement Feedback
Posted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 8:46 pm
Here it is. Let me know what you think. I'm (hopefully) near the final draft.
I attended a preparatory school where leadership was a line on a resume – “Secretary, Chess Club,” that was leadership. But that paradigm degrades the concept, trivializes it.
I learned about true leadership during my first semester at the University of South Alabama when the school was poised to launch a football program. The Student Government, school newspaper, University president, and even Faculty Senate lined up in support of football at my historically pigskin-free university. There was one catch to the proposal, though: a $150-per-semester student fee. This struck me as excessive – the fee would add $1,200 to a four-year tuition bill of $27,000 – so I began broadcasting this opinion to the student newspaper and those advocating the program. The city paper started quoting me as a source opposing the football proposal, while other opponents turned to me for advice on how best to stop the fee.
Suddenly, I was the leader of a movement. It was as if other people opposed to the program stepped back, leaving me standing in front alone. Nevertheless, I embraced the role by organizing a petition drive. I coordinated a dozen others who braved the hot and humid Alabama autumn with me to gather signatures against the added football fee. Armed with clipboards, we waylaid students coming out of class and argued our case, one person at a time. After a few months, we could boast a respectable total of more than 600 signatures.
However, opposing a football program in lower Alabama is akin to being against motherhood, Jesus, and the Republican Party. One person told the city paper “that freshman kid” was “screwing it all up” and “throwing a monkey wrench” into the new program. Far from being deterred, I pressed on, resolving to take the case to the highest levels of the administration.
The big day came on December 5th when the Board of Trustees was scheduled to vote on the football proposal. Donning my favorite black pin stripe suit, red power tie, and scuffed high school loafers, I waited anxiously in a leather chair by a shining conference table that seemed longer than the room. An unceremonious “We will now hear from [my name]” called me to address the group of skeptical faces. I pleaded with them to compromise. "At least let the student body vote on it. Consider it for another semester." The Board was unfazed: Despite my efforts, they unanimously passed the proposal.
Even though I “lost,” I celebrated the fact that I embraced leadership even in an unexpected situation. Leadership ambushed me instead of playing by the rules and coming on schedule: I suddenly found people standing behind me, demanding to follow. I learned I cannot neatly schedule opportunities to lead – When those chances arise, I have to take them.
This experience also partly inspired my career choice, civil liberties law. I knew I wanted to practice law since high school, but opposing an excessive football fee at a mid-level regional university reinforced my desire to fight for those others often neglect, even in unpopular causes where the odds are long. I see civil liberties law as a uniquely structured arena to do just that, to redress wrongs of far greater import than an overly expensive fee. Being knowledgeable of the law, especially the constitutional aspects, will give me the best tools to effectively fight for the neglected in my future career as a civil liberties attorney.