What? Like It's Hard?

I've spent the last month working on a law school personal statement. Because it's taken time out of the writing I told myself I'd be doing this year and because if I don't post it, it didn't happen, I'm putting it here in hopes that the cosmic energy of having brought this into existence in some form other than a dropdown window on the Law School Admission's Council's website will manifest some good energy for me and get me started on this new path.

Near the end of a 2015 deployment, I walked out on the flight deck of the USS George Washington. I had first enlisted in the United States Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program in 2012 after my time in college had left me feeling reduced to no more than what I could express through my saxophone. I needed a new challenge. Three years later, wearing a uniform drenched in sweat and saturated in industrial oils, I climbed out of the lower levels of the aircraft carrier to a view of the Pacific Ocean stretching out in every direction to the horizon. I reflected on the path that brought me there. The recruiter had only guaranteed that I was starting on arguably the most academically challenging career path the armed forces have to offer. My first two years in the Navy saw me go from nearly failing out to ultimately being recognized for personal excellence at graduation from our Nuclear Prototype Training Unit. My first duty station in Yokosuka, Japan, taught me how to navigate the rotating shifts and unexpected obstacles that come with life on a five thousand-person, one hundred thousand-ton floating city. Approaching the end of eight months out at sea and more than a year of qualification, I had come up to the flight deck as a fully qualified nuclear operator. But at that moment, I felt no sense of accomplishment. I found no profound answer in the ocean waves. That moment left me with only questions.

My parents tried to teach me their stories. Even so, their attempts to paint a picture of life in a country suffering armed conflict and crushing inequality from the perceived comfort of our American suburb often fell on deaf ears. It would only be among the scalding steam pipes and howling turbines of a nuclear power plant that their tales of desert heat and barking dogs would eventually come to life. I began to draw more parallels. The military power structure divided between enlisted and officer became the intrinsic divisions among the marginalized groups created by our American caste system. Cultures like the one my family comes from have seen their time-honored traditions eroded by neocolonialism and its accompanying acts of genocidal violence. Their story was reflected by those with whom I lived and worked through my different posts. Having come of age during a recession from which my hometown never recovered, the totality of these experiences led me to understand the price paid when factors beyond our control prevent us from living a life free of fear. Gone unchecked, those responsible avoid any consequences and place the blame back on those most vulnerable.

With these realizations came feelings of increasing helplessness. Seeing myself as part of the problem and unable to participate in the solution, I spent the past years asking myself how to best apply my GI Bill in service of some greater good. Consistently the response came back in the form of public interest law. Interviews with CUNY law professors Steven Zeidman and Ramzi Kassem inspired me. Their associated law clinics like the Defenders, the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights, and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility epitomize where to best channel my experience and passion — into work that helps the most marginalized. Through these examples, I have learned that an attorney, far from being limited to the machinations of a courtroom, can represent clientele that incites change in the social policies that govern our lives. Public interest law can hold a government accountable to the people it most exploits.

My story is uniquely American. Few educational systems allow for someone to start a new degree in their thirties. But it is precisely that winding path that gives me a unique blend of creativity, passion, and resilience not usually found among those who have taken the road most traveled. Whether performing reactor plant procedures or jazz orchestra arrangements, I showed the discipline and work ethic needed to prepare and execute under pressure. In being chosen by a United States embassy to present on American protest music for a French-speaking Gabonese audience, I have demonstrated the ability to communicate unfamiliar concepts and make them accessible across social and cultural barriers. I have felt both the triumph of propelling a warship through the icy waters of the Straits of Gibraltar and the pain of spending months at a time separated from those I hold most dear. Those experiences will still be with me in the rooms where, as legal counsel, I will share in both the joy of a last-minute ruling of justice served and the agony of a last legal resort exhausted.

I have thus far made the decisions in my life. And while I have been fortunate, when easier paths have been accessible, I have never sought the most convenient outcome. Each obstacle helped break down what I had thought I knew and opened my eyes to all I had been missing. Each lesson on this path solved questions from my past and gave me insight into my future. That future points to a Juris Doctor, one I hope to obtain at your institution. Three generations of my family have called New York their home. After years spent taking views of open seas stretching to the horizon, it feels fitting to come back to the city that has been the setting for so much of my story. It is at this law school where I can begin to answer questions about my future.

« Le problème ce n'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterrissage. »

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Bryan Rincón

« Le problème ce n'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterrissage. »