personal statement ROUGH draft-please read!

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personal statement ROUGH draft-please read!

Postby zanardin » Wed Sep 18, 2013 3:53 pm

Okay, here is an EXTREMELY rough draft of my personal statement. Not edited for grammar spelling or style, needs to be shortened and more organized, but, I wanted to post it just to get initial feedback and see if I am going in anywhere near the right direction. Any comments are appreciated.

Personal Statement

At the end of my senior year in college, not surprisingly to the dismay of my parents, I did not have a job secured for after graduation. And, in my mind, even worse, I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, what career path I wanted to take. I have always valued and enjoyed helping other people. At the most basic level this inherent passion, I now realize, came from the example of my parents. When I was about ten my dad brought home a few men to do work on our house. They spoke broke English and did not have any real experience in construction, this evidenced by the fact that my dad ended up doing most of the work himself. But that did not stop my dad from asking them back, and over the years he formed close relationships with both of them, who I later learned were undocumented immigrants, paying them a bit too much to do odd jobs around our house. My mom made a point to talk with our elementary school janitor, Ramon, every day when she picked us up, often bringing him a bag of fruit or some of our old clothes for his new baby.

In high school, I joined the community service club and led bingo once a week at Villa Fatima senior center. At Boston College, my love for serving others grew deeper and more pronounced in my life. I developed a love for listening to other people-their stories, struggles, and ideas-and helping them achieve success in their life. I formed meaningful relationships with adult immigrants that I tutored in ESL and GED prep, I marveled at the lives of the coal miners I got to know in West Virginia while I helped them paint their church and build a new library, and I laughed on the phone with teen leaders in Paraguay as I went over the grant we got for their new community garden. But as my senior year came to an end, I had not determined how I could use my knowledge and skills to most effectively help those in need, and I had not even considered that I could translate that help into a career.

I ended up applying for several post-graduate volunteer programs, with the thought that I could spend a year doing something I enjoyed while temporarily deferring any real decisions about my future. When I accepted a position with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in New York City, I was told I would be working at an organization called Tenants & Neighbors as a Tenant Organizer. I would do outreach in Rent Stabilized buildings with bad conditions or abusive landlords, and if tenants were interested, I would help them organize tenant associations. It sounded easy enough. But looking back, I had no idea what I was getting into, or the transformative impact it would have on me.

Growing up, all of the service work I did was from inside my own box-a protected box of white upper class privilege and choice. The work was performed on own terms: I decided when, where, and how, and my service was always met with appreciation. Helping others in this way was relatively simple, and it felt good. In New York, the circumstances and people I encountered challenged me in a way that I had never been before, and forced me to approach and carry out service in a completely different way.

All of the sudden, I lived and worked in an environment I had never thought I would be in, in a place with a level of distress I had never encountered, with people of backgrounds and experiences so different from me. I worked all day, every day; I did not have a choice about how often or where I would be working, and going home to Central Harlem was hardly a retreat back to my perfect box. The aspect of this experience that most affected me in those first months was how I was perceived by other people. For the first time in my life, I was not a member of the majority, in race or class. I was the different one, at home in an almost exclusively African American community, and in the African American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and Dominican neighborhoods I worked in across Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. I unwillingly learned more words for young white woman than I care to remember. Every time I walked on the street, it was as if I left my body and walked a few feet behind myself, so acutely aware of how others reacted to my presence.

This new reality made me uncharacteristically unsure about myself, particularly my motivations and actions. From leaving the house at 6am to run every morning to handing out the last flyer at a building at 9pm that night, I questioned everything I did, both old and new. I was confused as to why those I was there to help seemed to despise my presence, and even more so my attempts at assistance. I was at a loss for what my role was in my job, and how I could help those I was there to serve, considering their perception of me. But over the course of the next several months, I developed a sense of how I was meant to serve others. This happened in the opposite way that I thought it would. It had little to do with examining myself, or dwelling on what others thought of me; but rather it came from the courage to let go of myself and leave my box in order to really see other people, learn about them, and believe in them and their ability to succeed.

This process is highlighted the most poignantly in the work I did at 2425 Nostrand Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I got a few calls from a tenant about assistance in addressing conditions issues in the building, so I went out to talk with some tenants and hand out flyers about a meeting. Obviously, I had thought, I should help them organize a tenant association, which would allow them to work together to pressure their landlord to make changes. I strutted into the first meeting with my new business cards and copies of the standard “organize a tenant association” agenda I had created for the last building I worked in. I was very quickly put in my place.

“Look!” one tenant shouted after I delivered my introduction. “I was the president of the last tenant association, we’ve already tried it. What makes you qualified to be here, why should we even listen to you?” I was sure that every person in the crowded lobby could feel the sensation of sweat accumulating into large patches on the inside of my shirt. “Okay,” I stammered. “It sounds like you all aren’t interested in organizing another tenant association.” After mumbling something about my contact information, I rushed out of the apartment building. The biting November air stung my hot face. I had never been so blatantly and forcefully called out and questioned by anyone, about anything. Shit, I thought. What the hell am I doing?

For almost a month, I was able to shove 2425 Nostrand Avenue to the back of my mind. Then the phone calls started to come. Slowly at first, then twice a day. The female voice detailed how the cracks in her walls let water pool on her floors and on her furniture. “They said they got the mold out of the walls but it stinks in here.” I remember her saying in one voicemail. She recounted stories from her neighbors who had inoperable stoves and broken toilets. She relayed the fear tenants had as the landlord threw out older residents and undocumented family members after he deliberately refused to accept their rent or renew their lease. She left no name, no phone number, no address, but I didn’t need a name. I knew it was Marie, of apartment 426, 2425 Nostrand Avenue. She lived with her four kids and elderly parents-in-law. She had been one of the tenants at the November meeting to question my motives, why I was there. And now she wanted me to come back to the building. I was terrified. I could have ignored the calls indefinitely, no one knew about them but me. But I called her back.

I sat with her on the steps inside the lobby of her building, and she recounted again the stories she had left on my voicemail machine. I thought she had written me off as a fake, another nameless face to show up at her building and offer assistance. But here she was, pouring her life out in front of me. “Look at me,” she pleaded, “You told us you could help us, so you will? Or if you leave again we cannot find someone else. They all come in here and leave.” I looked up at her but then almost immediately looked back down. I could not face her; I did not know what to say. I had given them my speech, offered to help them organize a tenant association. What else did she want me to do? It took everything I had to meet her with my eyes and lock them there. I could feel the anger radiating from her face, but I could also see her desperation and sincerity. And the longer and deeper I looked at her, the more open and vulnerable I felt, but in such a way that allowed me to see who was sitting in front of me without concern for who I was, or what I was thinking; it was totally her.

That evening, I agreed to help Marie and a group of tenants file a Housing Part, or HP action in housing court, which would effectively sue their landlord for failure to comply with NYC housing laws mandating certain conditions standards in an apartment building. An HP action is the only suit tenants can file against their landlord without representation by an attorney, and at the time I was the tenants’ best viable option in terms of professional support. Assisting with an HP action was not at all within my job description; I was technically supposed to be organizing tenant associations. But fortunately the independence I was entrusted with by my supervisor allowed me to decide which projects I pursued, and all of the sudden, a month after I almost ran out of the lobby, I couldn’t turn away from 2425 Nostrand Avenue.

And so began weeks consumed by evening train rides to the end of the 2 subway line in Brooklyn. I helped tenants with the preliminary step in an HP action: writing and sending a letter to their landlord notifying them of the issues in the building. Then, I began to gather the necessary information needed to file an HP petition. Collecting basic information, apartment condition surveys, and inspection preferences from a group of 20 people turned out to be much harder than I originally thought. Long work hours, inability to read or write, lack of documentation, five kids, fear of eviction…so much was stacked against the tenants even in just that initial phase. I quickly realized how the most basic problems get in the way so powerfully of people who have so much potential. The physical conditions in their apartment, something I have taken for granted my whole life, inhibited them from being happy and productive. And inequality I never faced like a meager income, immigration status, lack of education, prevented them from fixing the basic condition issues in their apartments. After a few months I was able to acquire the help of an attorney I knew at a local legal services organization, and he was helpful in taking over the more technical items. But I still was in charge of all the nitty gritty: calling tenants, scheduling inspections, handing out flyers, leading meetings, and translating documents.

The petition was filed on June 2nd; we appeared in court for the first time on June 10th. That morning, the landlord’s attorney accused tenants of lying about the consistently broken elevator that prevented several elderly tenants from leaving their apartments for days; the elevator I had been stuck in on more than one occasion. The judge allowed the elevator complaint to be thrown out of the petition. I quickly realized that this was not going to be easy. The judgment and discrimination thrown towards the tenants in court was damaging. As an integral agent in the their effort to have their petition approved and a court date issued, I was astonished at the obstacles they continued to face at the court house. I cannot imagine the difficulty a group of tenants with no representation or assistance would have to overcome to be successful through the law. We went back to court two more times that summer. I had countless inspections appointments scheduled, and I helped tenants stand up against the retaliatory abuse of the landlord as they kept their petition updated and continued to amass supportive participation from building residents. After the judge granted two adjournments to the landlord, we finally went to trial, and left with a court order for all conditions and repairs on the petition to be corrected within 30 days, failure to do so to result in civil penalty fines paid to each tenant.

Assisting tenants in a housing court action while shadowing the attorney who ended up representing them gave me invaluable insight into the process of using the law as a form of service. I experienced the difficulty in overcoming injustice that prevents certain people from effectively interacting with the law, but also the power they amass in doing so. I watched as tenants used the information and teaching I provided them with to take on leadership roles in the court process and in their building. I gave them technical and logistical help and watched as they used my support to help each other so that they could all take ownership of their home and the effort to improve it.

The tenants and the work I did with them had a way of pulling me out of my box and away from the narrow lens I viewed the world through. This change in my perspective and, subsequently, my actions that accompanied the at first extremely difficult, exhausting, and sometimes almost defeating work I did at Tenants & Neighbors eventually allowed me to serve others in the most effective way. I was able to connect doing things I love-learning about people and listening to their stories, researching, writing, and teaching- with my knowledge and skills to give myself to others in a way I never had before. I provided them with the tools and groundwork to empower themselves and reach their goals, separate from myself-my expectations, desires, and ego. Genuinely and openly connecting with people from my broadened perspective and helping them succeed on their own terms was the most powerfully joyful and satisfying feeling I have ever felt.

I have not had to overcome significant obstacles in my life, and I have always been taken care of and supported. The most significant opportunity I have been given thus far has been the chance to create something meaningful out of my privilege by having the ability to commit to the Jesuit Volunteer Corp and the experiences it provided. I was able to live, walk, and work with those in desperate need in the most raw and concrete way. And I realize that my year as a Jesuit Volunteer was much more than those 365 days. It gave me the ability to see how all of my experiences up until that year-my academic success, passion for listening to and serving others, volunteer and travel experience, and dedication to social justice -led me to become a Jesuit Volunteer, and how the role challenged my knowledge, skills, and most importantly, my perspective so that I was able to leave my box and develop my beliefs, actions, and goals as groundwork for a clear future in actively pursuing change in a world where all boxes overlap and collide, in a world of common injustice and common hardship, but also potential for a common good.

The questions from my family and friends about my decision to study law in order to commit to a life of service still come, and will continue to bombard me. They wonder why I am going to spend years and thousands of dollars to practice public interest law. I now have the confidence to respond to this skepticism. The JVC experience helped me realize that I want to practice law in order to help and empower individuals and communities. I believe the law and its interpretations can be most meaningfully applied to eliminate the racism, inequality, and injustice I experienced so forcefully and transform society. This is why I want to practice law: to use it as an agent of positive change.

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Re: personal statement ROUGH draft-please read!

Postby Wolverine1614 » Wed Sep 18, 2013 4:42 pm

Hello, so just a couple of things I wanted to say about your PS. I'm not a pro at this, so I'll leave some of the other more advanced stuff to the others who are better at this than I am haha.
1. This PS was really really really long. Like, too long. I think this PS would work so much better if you just talked about one singular experience of your year with the JVC. The story you had with Marie was pretty cool. It showed that you can take initiative to help others and can do cool things in the face of adversity. I thought that was awesome. Focus on that. Your PS became a little boring during the paragraph that began "And so began weeks...." because it was a lot of unnecessary details. Focus on the good stuff, the stuff that changed you from this experience and the stuff that you can use to sell yourself to the admissions committee.
2. Also, there were a few things grammatically that bothered me. First thing, in the first paragraph you have "broke" english instead of "broken" english. This was probably just something that spell check didn't catch. Second, you begin quite a few sentences with "But". I'm actually not too sure if this is OK or not. I'm not 100%, but maybe change around some of the "But"s to "However" or words synonymous with that. I think there were a few unnecessary commas as well.

You've got the ingredients here for a good PS. Good luck! :)

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Re: personal statement ROUGH draft-please read!

Postby sasquatchsam » Thu Sep 19, 2013 8:39 pm

I am probably not the best person to give a critique but I will say that this is extremely long. This needs to be around two pages double spaced. This is probably why you haven't gotten much of a response back. I would suggest trimming it down to a max of three pages and re-posting. Good luck!

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Joined: Tue Jul 02, 2013 3:42 pm

Re: personal statement ROUGH draft-please read!

Postby Rt887 » Fri Sep 20, 2013 5:09 pm

As stated above, it is very long, but that is not necessarily a problem.

More importantly however is that fact that your need to take into account that your audience are committee members who read dozens of these a day. A sentence such as:
The questions from my family and friends about my decision to study law in order to commit to a life of service still come, and will continue to bombard me.

Even though this is a short sentence I feel tired just from looking at it. If I was an admissions officer reading your statement, I would honestly be very tempted to say the hell with it and just skip that sentence altogether. You should definitely focus very hard on sentence structure to make the whole thing flow better. You could just say something along the lines of, "My Friends and family will continue to question my decision to commit to a life of full of service." Says the exact same thing and saves the reader a few brain cells in the process.

The length wouldn't be so bad- I know many universities would allow up to four pages- if your sentences were concise and if the statement had a good flow to it. Focus on that and this will be a great personal statement in my opinion. Feel free to PM me with future drafts

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