Having restlessly toiled behind the counter of my dad’s dusty auto parts store for many years, I should have foreseen a day that I would look on my home with an outside’s eyes. That day came in April of my first year of college after I had spent four months away. I intentionally got a late start on Friday, so it was nearly ten o’clock and very cold by the time I rolled into town. The few occupied buildings on the town square were left alone for the night. My mind seized upon the image of the night wind blowing right by our little house on the north edge of town, down Grand Avenue, and past my grandpa’s house on the south side of town, all without touching a piece of human civilization. With the sparkling universe looking down on that treeless, foreign town, I felt exposed, like I was on the surface of the moon.
For most of my life, my shy personality mirrored the remote nature of Burwell, Nebraska, a tiny village of 1,200 on the edge of the desolate Sandhills. I loved where I grew up, but I had a peculiar fascination from a young age with maps. Those large orange clots, big cities, were where the people were, and I always believed that I was missing out by being so far away from so many people. I just assumed that some of the quietly positive aspects of my little hometown, especially the lack of social boundaries between people of differing class or profession, were universal.
Like many of small-town America’s most determined young people, I joined the premed army right away and ground my way through late nights of calculus and organic chemistry. Although my scientific education made me a more analytical thinker, I never stayed up till 3 A.M. reading about science (as opposed to Caro’s biographies of LBJ). I puzzled my science classmates at Nebraska Wesleyan with my constant talk of tax policy or Supreme Court cases, and my outside involvement has increasingly highlighted this discrepancy. I avoided hospitals and clinics and instead chose to tutor at newly re-opened Dawes Middle School. The students were very mistrustful of me at first, but we share more in common than what meets the eye. Northeast Lincoln shares one striking characteristic with Burwell. It also was left behind decades ago by a changing society. I quickly noticed the damaging effect of the spatial separation of Lincoln’s children. Driving south in Lincoln is like seeing the history of the American upper middle class unfold before our eyes, street by street. South Lincoln’s posh schools, one derisively termed “Von Maur High,” are filled with the white children of the white-collar. By contrast, the students at Dawes are ethnically diverse, and many of them are children of immigrants, but they are deceptively homogenous as well. They are the children of convenience store clerks and forklift operators, the blue-collar. How can I convince them that they need higher education if they don’t know anyone who obtained it?
Their teachers are both patient and capable, and the simple truth is that an infusion of Hollywood-style super-teachers won’t solve an education crisis bred from an inequality crisis. Proactive housing and districting policies constitute the only viable path out of socio-economic segregation for America as a whole. While I enjoy the personal interaction of teaching, I more often find myself wondering why my students don’t have English textbooks, or why they are required to join a private club to play sports. The basic issue of social equity led me to pursue my policy interests through an internship at AARP last summer. My most satisfying project was a comparative state taxation study that will be used by a lobbying coalition to argue for Social Security tax relief in Nebraska. This experience confirmed my belief in the power of public policy to help vulnerable people, young and old.
I doubt I will spend the rest of my life in a courtroom, or even in a law firm. I want to attend law school because knowledge of the rules that bind society is the surest path to having the ability to shape it, and I want to meet people who have the same desire. Most of my young life has already been consumed by passion for and curiosity about the institutions like families, businesses, and schools that are bound together into a cohesive society, and I want to dedicate my life to working for economic and social equality in this society. Eventually, I would like to focus my practice on housing discrimination or education policy. For all of my misgivings about my obscure hometown, I have learned from living away from it that the ideal of community across socio-economic lines, inevitable in a one-school town less than a mile square, has been diluted one sub-division at a time in most of America. It is my responsibility and that of the entire next generation of social leaders, to remediate this corrosive separation. As a student, I have demonstrated a belief in the progress of both individuals and policy that will serve me well on my path to becoming a leader in this kind of community development.
Despite the slight awkward-ness of the first sentence, the starting paragraph does a good job of establishing an initial scene by using visual imagery to communicate Jordan Klimek’s feeling of dislocation. Klimek does a particularly good of job of making his return stand out through original and vivid descriptions. The strongest aspect of the opening, however, is how it uses a common theme as the foundation of a strikingly original and deeply critical analysis of American inequality.
Many strong admissions essays leverage a single theme to illustrate something broader about the author. The particular genius of this essay is that Klimek opts for a topic, his experience as a small-town student teaching in an urban school that showcases his capacity for critical thinking while clearly demonstrating an intellectual passion that has inspired his previous experiences. At the same time, the story he tells looks forward, motivating his present interest in law school, and his future goals. He does an admirable job of demonstrating specific experiences that have created and supported that intellectual belief as well as placing these experiences in terms of his own personal development.
In fact, the times Klimek runs into trouble are the times when he departs from that compelling topic. He transitions to a brief explanation of internship experience, something that adds minimal substantive information beyond what a resume could explain. That pushes aside his core themes of identity and growth to tack on an interest in public policy.
Klimek goes on to do a particularly admirable job with the concluding paragraph. Not only does he provide a strong explanation for how the theme of inequality would influence his legal education and future career, he addresses specific aspects of the law that he wants to address and how it would relate to his intellectual engagement. It also includes a unique segment of candor. His up-front denial of interest in practicing law only re-inforces his actual reasons for law school. The result actually affirms a genuine intellectual interest that Klimek can pursue as a student. It provides a nice setup for an equally genuine and fervent conclusion that law school would provide him with a critical tool to pursue social action.