Personal Statements: future lawyers share their stories
January 16, 2013
By GPA and LSAT scores, the Class of 2015 is one of the most highly qualified to study at Penn State Law. Students Susanna Bagdasarova, Talal Al-Ufasian and Megan Wells agreed to share their personal stories that helped them stand out from the crowd. Look for more in the next issue of Lexicon, the Penn State Law alumni magazine.
Immigrant, refugee, Armenian, American, daughter, friend, student, hopeful; these are the names to which I answer, given to me by experience and circumstance. Born in Soviet Armenia, I am a child of refugees, who, fearing for their lives, left their home in Azerbaijan and spent my lifetime building a new one. After escaping a genocide twenty years ago which has not yet been recognized, and may never be, my parents instilled within me a burning ambition to succeed and make my circumstances my own. Difficult and never what one could call “normal,” my childhood memories are highlighted by embarrassment over my parents’ accents, shame over being an immigrant, shame over trying to hide it, a struggle to merge and reconcile two cultures, and stretches of poverty. I have fought for each of my names so that they are no longer just names; schoolyard taunts and teases or the inability to afford the latest and greatest, the new and improved, served only to brand them in shining letters on my heart. I am many, and they are one. As Whitman said far more eloquently than I, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
The battles of my young life and the sight of my parents’ battles have taught me lessons and given me an understanding of the world I would not be privy to without them. I know that one cannot guarantee the circumstances of one’s life; one must do the best to prepare for the storm but bend to the wind (like my parents, the doctor and the professor, who no longer practice their professions but who learned English and new trades). I know that even after all the hard work has been done, one must thank lucky stars and kind people, like when the U.S. Embassy opened its doors after we spent a year in a refugee camp. I know that after everything is gone, there is determination and there is perseverance (like my parents’ new house, bought nearly twenty years after locking the door to their old one for the last time). I am grateful to have learned these lessons; and though it would be disingenuous to say that I am glad these things happened, I am glad of who I became because of them.
Law school will allow me to pursue international and humanitarian law in order to affect the legal processes of the world that have so affected my life. I hope to bring aid and comfort to others, inspired by and as a thank you to those who did so for my family. Perhaps I am meant to do it, perhaps my experiences have nudged me toward it, but upholding the words of justice in an unjust world is my calling.
Two years ago I graduated from college and returned home to work in a major oil company, Saudi Aramco. As I started my professional experience I realized how little my knowledge from school helped. Much of the academic information I had acquired became outdated in the rapidly evolving industry. There were so many new technologies to discover and new methods to master. However, before I got the chance to panic, I was told by my supervisor that I displayed high potential. This made me even more confused as I did not have the experience or the up-to-date knowledge to display anything. It did not take me long though to figure out what he really meant.
As I came to understand my strengths I started to effectively utilize them at work. I use my strong English language and writing skills to write instructions and procedures for the processes we go through. I wrote the department’s complex budgeting procedures that passed the corporate auditing process in 2010. Due to my attention to detail, I was nominated to work on multiple analytical projects like KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), with a team of petroleum engineers. I make use of my communication skills and international cultural experiences to successfully interact with the multinational body of employees we have as I work in teams within and outside of Saudi Aramco.
One interesting part of my work is reviewing operational contracts. I am one of a few employees in our department that have the petroleum engineering technical background combined with a strong mastery of the English language to qualify for such extensive reviews of dry and long contracts. An example of this is Halliburton’s LSTK, Lump Sum Turnkey, contract with Saudi Aramco in 2010. I was on the committee that reviewed the multi-million contract. We spent many late nights at work making sure that the contract covered all operational requirements for our company with the help of the company’s lawyers to clarify the legal language. After the company signed the contract we started to see the effect of our work on multiple levels as the drilling operations between the two companies were so successful that an extension of the contract is expected to be done in 2012.
I was fascinated by the lawyers work and how their contribution affected our deal with the other company in order to maximize our profit while making sure both sides got a fair deal. I expressed my desire to join the company’s law program and was approved to pursue a J.D. on a full scholarship. I am very motivated and excited to be on the lawyers’ side of the table next time I am negotiating a contract for Saudi Aramco.
At high school graduation I had my life planned: private undergraduate college, Army ROTC, active duty, and law school, focusing on issues in women’s justice and child advocacy during my inactive duty. And then three weeks later I was grappling with the biggest decision I had ever had to make: what to do about my surprise pregnancy. After many tears, careful thought and intense self-reflection, I altered the plans I had so meticulously outlined for myself and began my new life as a working, student mother.
That decision affected much more than I imagined it might. My daughter is a shining light for everyone who knows her. She made me a fighter. I fight for her, for me, and I fight for that in which I believe. She made me devoted to her, to myself, and to a world that no longer systemically denies women and children justice and protection. Nothing that I do is for me alone. I am her example. I am Mommy. I hope that she pays attention.
She will never see me stop. Through a difficult pregnancy at eighteen, a brief cancer scare at twenty, and bills to pay all the while, I made it this far. I made it for her. But I am not finished. While nearly all of my original life plans have changed, one thing has always remained a beacon on the horizon: law school. I have dreamed of it for most of my twenty-five years. She will not, nor will anyone else, see her mother give up, give in, fall away, or make excuses. She will watch her mother walk to her dreams, become a prosecutor, and fight for those who need to be fought for. I pray she takes notice that I have shown every person who has ever told me I can’t, that I can. I have allowed nothing to stop me. I am loving, I am strong, and I am exactly who I am supposed to be, going exactly where I am supposed to go, to do exactly what I am supposed to do.