“Have you got what it takes to lead in a diverse world?” Based on these words, the Museum of Tolerance college internship program seemed like an incredible opportunity for me to learn about mentoring a coalition between Latino and Jewish high school students. A linguistic anthropology class I took at the time emphasized how language relates to socialization, miscommunication, and cultural differences. The program seemed to possess the potential to generate real change since it matched a theory discussed in my anthropology classes about a process termed “cultural evolution.” This theory states that cultural change, whether positive or negative, starts by influencing the next generation when they are still impressionable and open to differences.
I jumped in with both feet. During my interview, the coordinator emphasized the similarities between Jewish and Latino students and explained the potential for powerful networks in the next generation. The program would start with a series of lectures by prominent community leaders and motivational speakers who would encourage team building between the two groups. My role would be to serve as a liaison between the groups and facilitate discussions each week. At the end of the year, the high, the high school student would work in small groups to create a project that combined the two cultures and created an alliance based on similarity. I was absolutely thrilled to be offered the position.
Having grown up in a predominately white community, I picked UCLA partially because of the incredible diversity that both the campus and the city of Los Angeles had to offer. This was my first opportunity to really get involved in this diversity. The first day, I arrived at the museum ready for a new experience and excited to learn about the dynamic program that I felt could really draw a group of high school students out of their isolated bubbles.
As I glanced at the program syllabus and was introduced to the program directors, other mentors, and students, I wondered where the diversity had gone. Everyone in the room was Jewish. I wondered how we could build a coalition without the Latino side participating.
The answer was that we couldn’t. Unfortunately, I learned that potential does not always translate into change. In reality, the Latino students were only involved in the program for three weeks (in a yearlong program). The rest of the time it was optional for them to attend and they received no incentive to come, whereas the Jewish students received school credit. Additionally, meetings were held at the museum, which was walking distance for the Jewish students and two hours in traffic for the Latino students. I understood why every single Latino student chose to forgo the program after the required time. This was the first time I watched a well-intentioned program with so much potential fail. The strangest part was that directors of the program never acknowledged that it had not worked. Instead, they proclaimed it a success and considered running it again in the future. This angered me.
My anger was catalyst in changing the program for my group. I spoke to the directors and the other frustrated interns about my concerns. I channeled my anger to lead my group of high school students to create a Jewish and Latino dance event hosted at UCLA. I felt satisfied that despite the flaws in the program we produced a final result that incorporated its original goals.
Although there was limited contact with the Latino students, I still met a variety of Jews. I grew up with the teachings of a Reform synagogue that my agnostic mother and father insisted I attend regularly. In contrast, the young people at the museum ranged in their religious beliefs from atheist to Orthodox. They also included Persians, Israelis, members of the LGBT community, and people of different socioeconomic background. Yet all of us congregated in the same room every week to discuss Judaism without the acknowledgment of the diversity that our own group represented.
This experience made me reconsider the difference between having the potential to make a change and actually accomplishing it. I still believe that cultural evolution or influencing the next generation can create great change in the way that people see others whom they immediately identify as different from themselves. I know that participating in this program was starting point for me in recognizing the barriers I need to overcome when facing a diverse world.
The directors of this program were good people, they were amiable and passionate. But we can do better. I will do better. Like recognizing the flaws in this program, I hope to recognize the flaws in laws and work to improve them. Law school will give direction to my already developing passion for the environment. It will strengthen my power to make change in the world and, unlike the program directors, actually follow through. This follow-through includes the ability to acknowledge the inevitability of imperfection. I hope to help shape laws that create environmental reform and encourage sustainability, while boosting the U.S. economy. I am guaranteed to make mistake, but law school will teach me to see the world through a different lens, challenging me to continue to analyze, reform and improve every action I take.
Perhaps one of the most common pitfalls in writing admissions essays is forgetting to talk about your own qualities. Too often do we see a well-versed and extremely well-written essay turned away simply because the author has focused on delineating the minute details of her story and has simply forgotten to elaborate on her own strengths and qualities. Here, however, we see an essay that moves the reader from the admirable vision, potential, and theory of the internship program, toward Mara Ludmer’s outstanding contributions to the program. “My anger was a catalyst in changing the program for my group.” Is a great example of an effective transition into Ludmer’s contributions to the program—she converts the evocation of a negative emotion, anger, into motivation and drive for social change within the program.
At certain points, however, the esay drifts into sounding like a resume, from her core experience at the museum to creating a dance experience through it. It’s important to remember that the personal statement exists to supplement and augment the rest of the application. A resume can say, “Worked as liaison for Museum of Tolerance; led effort to increase diversity in program.” Ludmer misses some opportunities to push past that. At a minimum, that resume-listing wastes precious words in her brief statement.
Ludmer finishes off the essay by generalizing her experience from her time in the program into facets of everyday life, as well as her upcoming time in law school. This tie-in is extremely critical.
She recognizes her ability to apply the skills she garnered from her experiential learning to her career and education in law, making a connection that helps her stand out from the pool of applicants. Ludmer casts herself as intelligent but humble. She understands the “inevitability of imperfection” and admits. “I am guaranteed to make mistakes.” Your essay shouldn’t argue against your case for admission, but it should produce a real human being who can improve by attending law school, not one who stands nothing to gain from further study. Ludmer conveys an appreciation for the value law school can impart.