August 14, 2015 · law school

LSAC Personal Statement

Admissions is never a pleasant or straightforwards process, and this was a reality I found to be particularly acute when applying to law school. Of the three pillars of any application – GPA, LSAT, and the personal statement – it seemed that the last of these was the most ambiguous in terms of what schools were seeking. Yet as I sat staring at my empty applications in September of 2014, it was also the sole component I still had real control over at that stage in the application cycle. I suppose there’s always the fall/winter LSAT rewrite, but I digress.

In case it will be helpful to anyone going through the ordeal of applying to Canadian and US law schools, I’m posting my personal statement – one that I’m fortunate to say fared well in the process – to potentially serve as a small source of inspiration.

From Statecraft to Stagecraft

I was surprised that I did not enjoy attending Model United Nations conferences as much as I thought I would. With my studies in political science and economics, my penchant for discussion and debate, and my monthly subscription to Foreign Affairs, these conferences seemed to be the ideal forum to intellectually engage with some measure of what I study outside of a classroom. Where else, I reasoned, could a student experience the active involvement with a subject the undergraduate lecture contains so little of?

Certainly, as a pedagogical tool, the undergraduate university staple of the lecture has its place. As something more cerebral however, I felt a longing for more. This is not to say that lectures are not thought provoking or instructive: under the care of a passionate professor, to sit through a lecture can be to embark on a thrilling ride through even the densest material. Concepts that lie dead on a textbook page can be made as lively as a symphony in concert.

Still, like an orchestral performance, the divide between the performer and the audience in a lecture is absolute. Questions may be asked and the occasional poll of the class may be conducted, but in the end, the student’s job is to be a listener. One often is encouraged to question the content, but acting upon those questions is best left for outside the lecture hall.

As a microcosm of its real world counterpart in New York, Model UN promised to fill this void in interaction with a blend of statecraft – the interaction amongst the different delegates all vying to pass the resolutions from their position papers – and the substantive issues at hand. Yet as glamorous and dynamic as the debating was, reflecting on the proceedings that had passed pushed me to ask, what did I learn from it all? The application of this statecraft, as worthwhile as I do believe the involved rhetorical skills are, seemed to teach less about the conference’s topics than my international relations lectures.

My initial belief in the potential of Model UN gave way to genuine disappointment, with the art of debating taking centre stage over depth of understanding. As I strive to live every moment as a student, learning has unwaveringly been my goal. This goal is what drives my search, and several conference sessions in, Model UN did not appear to be what I was searching for.

This profoundly personal importance I find in learning stems from my family background. As a product of their time and circumstance in China, my parents were not fortunate enough to have had much schooling – after secondary school, university as more than a faraway and abstract idea in their mind was both unknown and unobtainable. My mother and father learned to appreciate university as a consequence of its inaccessibility to them.

The story of my parents moving away from their home and families to Canada, in a bid to provide very different circumstances for me, has made university an especially poignant experience – driven by my own appreciation of the possibilities for learning it can provide.

Given the opportunity of attending university, I have forged ahead with this appreciation steadfastly in mind. Though numerical percentages and letter grades have resulted from my efforts, these are not the treasured artefacts of my time as an undergraduate student. Instead, the moments when a theory that had eluded me for days finally fell within grasp through interacting in a study group, or the moments of intense debate and learning that arose in a special seven-person seminar course on European regionalism, have been the most valuable.

These insightful sparks of intellectual learning were absent from my time as a Model UN delegate. Yet instead of abandoning the whole idea of Model UN as another avenue outside of the lecture hall for pursuing such moments, it seemed only logical to engage with the conferences from a different perspective.

My experience as an executive at the University of Toronto’s collegiate level conference, helping construct the inner workings that hide behind the curtains of the stage, was remarkably different from that as an attendee. As the conference spanned but three days and as the delegates themselves were the starring actors, I briefly questioned the amount and importance of the preparatory work in the preceding months. Instead, I discovered that like in a well-executed play or perhaps a well-argued legal case, the meticulous stagecraft of constructing the scenery, designing the actors’ appearances, and managing the stage itself, was the most important work of all.

It was here, while completing such tasks, that I found my space where I thrived. Tasks like distilling and adapting the real procedural rules of the UN, recreating the hierarchy of its agencies and committees, and methodically researching the chosen topics of the conference were impetuses for the interaction and learning I felt was absent as a delegate. In a way, stagecraft is most successful when it is most invisible and seamless to the performers, and I knew this was true for our efforts as well. Nonetheless, I cherished the involving and intellectual character of this work as well as its distance from the spotlight.

The journey of my involvement in Model UN, from statecraft as a delegate to stagecraft as an organizer, is one segment of my broader journey. Though I know not exactly what tasks or projects lie ahead as I begin my legal career, I view the endpoint of this arc as the start of another. This is an arc where my role as an organizer – in which success and learning is achieved through understanding and exacting preparation – is symbolic of my perception of law, and my hopeful part on this vastly larger stage.