I guess I will throw mine into the pile as an example of a diversity statement for an old white guy
Hopefully it will help someone.
Mine is longer than most examples here. The question prompt gave me 4 pages to work with so I decided to use it all.
Describe any personal accomplishments, experiences, or aspects of your background, including family educational background, socioeconomic history, personal hardship experiences, and ethnic background, that you believe will contribute a diverse perspective to the X School of Law educational environment. Explain how your accomplishments, experiences, or background have affected your viewpoint and how your perspective will enhance the learning atmosphere at X School of Law. Specifically, what perspective will you bring to the academic community, including the classroom, that you believe might otherwise be missing or underrepresented?
(Approximately 1-4 double spaced pages)
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
– Helen Keller
While I am fortunate to have not faced the magnitude of adversity Ms. Keller overcame in her life, my experiences have proven the truth of her words. Three major experiences have shaped who I am today: growing up poor, completing the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Power Program, and experiencing the death of my son. These life experiences have shaped my perception of the world and continue to guide me as I experience new challenges.
Growing up Poor
When recounting a childhood of limited means, people often mention words along the lines of, “I didn’t know we were poor.” My story is different. I was acutely aware that I came from a poor family. I knew that my schoolmates didn’t have popcorn for dinner as mine did on occasion (because it was inexpensive and filling). I knew that other kids’ Christmas presents didn’t come from the Salvation Army. I knew that not everyone’s parents were alcoholics. I knew my family was different, but it didn’t bother me. After all, there were people who were much worse off than we were. I was never homeless. I did not suffer the horrifying abuse that some do. And I almost always had something to eat, even if it was just a bowl of Jiffy Pop.
The lack of possessions never bothered me because the library always had books to read and it didn’t cost anything to play in the yard using makeshift toys. I didn’t mind getting teased about being a “free lunch kid” because most children were teased about one thing or another. The one thing that bothered me was the lack of expectations. Everyone seemed to assume that because I came from a poor family I was destined to struggle in school and never make anything out of my life. The stigma of low expectations followed me from my earliest days in the classroom until I graduated from high school. It was evident in the surprise and amazement displayed every time I took a standardized test and scored well above grade level. It was evident in the way that teachers never protested when I was lazy and didn’t turn in an assignment. It was evident by the fact that not a single person talked to me about going to college after high school.
Growing up poor wasn’t the biggest challenge of my youth. Growing up without any expectations was a far bigger obstacle to overcome. Nobody set a bar and challenged me to leap over it. I don’t know how high I could have jumped had I been challenged to push myself. Yet I still consider myself lucky. I learned to set my own expectations. I learned to motivate myself. I overcame the apathy of others and succeeded in my life’s pursuits. Most importantly, I learned not to judge a person by their circumstances, but by their reaction to those circumstances.
Completing the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Power Program
After passing all the screening tests, completing basic training, and graduating from Electrician’s Mate “A” School, the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power School was the next step to becoming a nuclear power plant operator. I had always done well in school and expected that trend would continue. Although the school had a 40% wash-out rate, I was confident that I would easily be in the 60% of graduates. I was wrong.
Nuclear Power School was the most rigorous academic and intellectual challenge of my life. Every day consisted of seven hours of lecture on topics like reactor physics, thermodynamics, advanced electrical theory, and mathematics. It was the proverbial “drinking from a fire hose” scenario and we were expected to soak up anything we missed before the process repeated again the next day. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in over my head. Determined to succeed, I stayed in the building until well after midnight every day only to show up before dawn the next. The material was classified, as it uses examples from actual naval power plants, so all studying and homework had to be done in our classroom. I studied for at least eight hours a day on the weekends. Two months passed and, despite focusing all my effort on school, I was barely passing.
It was at this point that I started taking Lieutenant H’s class: Health Physics. Like all the other classes, the material came at breakneck speed and I struggled to keep up. I approached Lt. H after class to ask a question. He mentioned that I was one of his “2.5 to stay alive” students, meaning that he knew I was struggling in the program. And then he asked a question that literally changed everything. He asked if there was anything he could do to help me succeed in his class. We spoke at length about how I had always done well in school and on tests, but in Nuclear Power School I had been behind from the beginning. Like a doctor announcing his diagnosis, he proclaimed, “You’ve never been challenged before and you don’t know how to study.”
Lieutenant H spent an hour a week with me for the remainder of my time in his class. We never discussed content; he simply helped me to structure my study program and organize my tasks. I learned to take better notes and to highlight important concepts while reviewing them. He taught me the value of taking breaks during long study sessions to keep myself fresh and alert. It took a few weeks of practice before I got the new routine down, but the results were impressive. My grades immediately started improving. More importantly, I no longer felt lost and overwhelmed.
Nuclear Power School lasts six months and is divided into two halves. The second half is commonly referred to as “the dark side” due to the increased difficulty of the classes and a general downward trend in grades. I might have been the only student in my class to enjoy “the dark side.” With my new study skills, I was able to improve my grades while cutting back the time I spent in the building. I graduated from Nuclear Power School and excelled in the Nuclear Prototype training that followed, eventually being certified as a nuclear power plant operator and supervisor.
I learned many things in the Naval Nuclear Power Program, but the most important one was how to study when faced with academic challenges that cannot be met with ability alone. These study skills have served me well beyond Nuclear Power School. I use them frequently in my work as I learn how complicated communications and global positioning products operate so I can write training courses for operators and technicians. I employed them to learn about the telecommunications industry and underlying technology when I entered the field. I used them to graduate from X University with a 4.0 grade point average. And I will use them to be successful at X School of Law.
The Death of My Son
It is a sacrifice that warriors have made for centuries. We travel to distant lands in service to our country and are greeted upon our return by sons and daughters we have never met. Knowing this, I felt lucky to have even been present when my son, John Doe, was born on November 3rd, 1990. Five days later, I left for a three-month deployment to the North Atlantic. A deployment over the holiday season is always hard, but leaving my newborn son behind was especially difficult. My shipmates tried to cheer me up by pointing out that the first three months of parenthood are filled with a lot of sleepless nights and crying.
The separation of a deployment is particularly acute for submariners. We cannot receive mail or telephone calls on a submarine, so contact with loved ones is limited to receiving three “familygrams” of 16 words each during the deployment. The need to remain hidden prevents submarines from transmitting messages, so communication is one-way. Essentially, submarines and their crews simply disappear for months at a time. Fortunately, the demands of operating a submarine in sensitive areas of the world occupy the crew’s minds and the time passes quickly.
On February 4th we docked in Brest, France. The next morning I was called into the Executive Officer’s stateroom, where he told me that my son had died on February 3rd from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I don’t remember exactly what he said. What words do you use to tell a man that his son has died? In fact, I don’t remember much about the next two days as I tried to get home from France. My journey began with a train ride to Paris on the TGV. At the station, a pair of French sailors picked me up and drove me to the U.S. Embassy a where I was given an airline ticket for the first flight home the next morning. I remember the Embassy driver dropping me off at a hotel and then picking me up the next morning after the longest and loneliest night of my life. The next clear memory I have was the burial. Everything between is a blur.
I spent four days with my son before I left to go to sea. Although he died 19 years ago, I often think of how limited the time we share with someone can be. My son’s brief life still impacts me every day: it shapes the way I interact with people. I pay attention. I form relationships rather than just going through the motions. I take an interest in what is going on in people’s lives. I have a very painful reminder that you never know how much time you will have to share with a person. I treasure every moment.
The diversity of our experiences shapes our character and colors our interactions with others. My life has been filled with experiences that have molded me into who I am now. Indeed, my soul has been strengthened and my vision cleared as a result of the trials I have had to overcome. I look forward to sharing my experiences and creating new ones with my classmates at X School of Law.