Any advice would be really great! Thanks!
As I stood before the Texas House Committee on Higher Education in February 2005, I felt a lump in my throat, and I could barely speak. I had recently joined the ACLU of Texas Legislative Committee, and I was speaking for the first time on their behalf against HB 479, a bill to grant the Austin Police Department concurrent jurisdiction over the University of Texas at Austin campus. The ACLU, as well as Students for the ACLU, a newly reformed organization of which I was the president, feared that this bill could have unintended negative consequences for the students at the university and their civil rights.
Over the following four months, I spoke before House and Senate subcommittees on a number of bills, always representing the ACLU of Texas. Serving on their legislative committee was extremely inspiring to me. While I was one of two students on the bill, the committee, composed of lawyers and non-profit professionals, took me seriously and trusted me to speak on their behalf. We often didn't win, but by the end of the legislative term, I was no longer nervous standing in front of legislative committees, stating my points, answering questions, and countering evidence presented by the other side. I gained an incredible amount of knowledge about how the legislative system actually works, speaking to legislative staffers, speaking to legislators. Often legislators would simply drop a bill we opposed after learning that somebody would speak against it. Sometimes they introduced amendments to address our concerns, and I was occasionally caught off guard when a member of the committee introduced a totally different version of the bill than the one I had read. I also learned a lot from the other people working for the ACLU, and I never missed a Friday morning planning session at 7:00 AM, often arriving prepared to go to the capitol immediately afterwards.
A year later, having completed the coursework for my B.A., I moved to Vienna, Austria with my Viennese girlfriend, whom I met in Texas. I was sorry to give up the activism I had been involved in in Texas, but I was excited about the opportunity to live abroad and gain new experiences. Besides, we were only planning to stay one year.
Almost four and a half years later, I'm happily married, living in Vienna with my wife and baby daughter. I love my life here, and I have a great job teaching in English to children in the first and second grades, incorporating everything from sports and art to math and science. I also work a few hours a week for the Vienna Seminar of Nobel Laureates, writing or proofreading letters to their offices, and even meeting some of the laureates and listening to their speeches. I also have enough time to spend several afternoons a week with my daughter.
Yet, even with such a great life, I feel a calling to do something different. Living in Vienna has changed me in countless ways, big and small. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the world. I no longer take Texas friendliness for granted. I know that even with welfare states to protect people from the ups and downs of the world, life isn't perfect anywhere. I've seen that problems in the legal system, abuses of power, and simple injustice that we read about daily in American newspapers aren't just American phenomena.
Every place also has it's its heroes. Many of mine are lawyers, both in America, Austria, and the world. I'm proud when I read about American lawyers helping families whose homes were wrongfully foreclosed keep those homes, or when American lawyers stand up for the poor in the justice system, often at no material gains to themselves. Austria has those people, too.
Maybe the best part about living in Austria has been gaining an understanding about the subtleties and gray areas of the world. If you stay at home, or just visit other places for a vacation, it can be easy to believe that the rest or the world, or at least Europe, is near perfect, while the United States is a country only of problems. I don't believe that. These life experiences and new insights have helped me make the decision to leave my life in Vienna and return to the United States to attend law school.
I'm excitedly looking forward to the next stage in my life, hopefully in Texas. I want to become a lawyer, and to affect people in small but important ways. I've already had a taste of that, both in my activism in America, and watching young children soak up English day to day here in Vienna. I think if we want things to be different, we have to work at it ourselves, knowing that our own impact is limited. I want the world to be a better place for my daughter, and for everybody else. I want my daughter to grow up in a world that's more safe and free than it is today
I think I can help bring about some of those changes. I’m certainly prepared to try. affect that, if only in a small way.
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