The Twilight Zone

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This applicant shows that her passion for public interest law flows naturally from her volunteer activities and life experiences. When you finish this essay, do you have a sense of unity and completion? She tied her conclusion both to the highlights of the body and her opening paragraph.

The last thing I remember is falling asleep during a late night rerun of the Twilight Zone. So when it happened, it was especially eerie, like I had stepped into a lost episode, but Rod Serling was nowhere in sight; for moment, neither was anybody else. At 4:31 AM a merciless shove pushed me off my bed. I crawled on the floor, trying to escape the cruel, uncontrollable shaking, but it followed me. It followed me down the stairs and underneath the dining room table where my family joined me. Little did I realize that before the morning sun rose again, I would see everything differently.

My world changed. The 6.7 earthquake which crippled the Northridge area on January 17, 1994 rattled and ripped apart the fibers of security in our neighborhood. Our home was ruined; smashed glass, crumbled walls, and the lack of electricity, gas, and water made it uninhabitable. Without basic utilities, we slept and "lived" in our car for nine days while guarding our home from looters.

The damage was everywhere. A personal landmark, the Granada Hills Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, collapsed. The site where I had volunteered as a teen advisor — lobbying for and improving the quality of the teen health clinic while working one-on-one with underprivileged, problem teenagers — no longer existed. Only an empty lot and the memory of a valuable and productive medical and psychological outreach program for troubled youth remained.

As much as Northridge and its surrounding regions changed externally, so did the lives of the victims internally. Following this traumatic experience, I developed a keen awareness of the fragility of life and a newly restored appreciating for the simplest of my old comforts. As vulnerable and edgy as I was with every aftershock that rolled through the area, I consoled myself with reminders of how we were spared.

With a profound sense of gratitude for our relative good fortune, within weeks of the initial quake I volunteered at the American Red Cross Earthquake Relief Center. As my family and I rebuilt our home and our lives, I translated for Iranian earthquake victims and performed various clerical tasks. Yet, my most valuable contribution to the earthquake relief team stemmed from the moral support I was "qualified" to provide. With my earthquake experience, I was able to comfort the teary-eyed victims who approached us for help. I gave them the hope and understanding they sought from a primarily out-of-state staff. I benefited too: My work for the Red Cross aroused my curiosity in public interest law.

I had the opportunity to explore this new interest in the summer when I interned in Washington D.C. for Congressman Howard P. ("Buck") Smith of California. That summer I was responsible for attending meetings and informing the Congressman's staff of the issues discussed. One of the issues I followed dealt with a proposed guideline to prohibit religious expression in the workplace due to its allegedly offensive nature. Defining such acts as wearing a Star of David or praying silently before a meal as "religious harassment," the bill attempted to equate these acts with verbal or sexual harassment.

Still the most fulfilling experience of my internship was serving the Mr. Smith's constituents when they wrote, called, or visited our Washington office. Their concerns covered many issues, including city maintenance and the enforcement of FCC regulations on local radio stations; yet, most cries for help grew out of the January 17 disaster.

My experience in the earthquake proved to be useful in my internship. After all, I was working with Mr. Earthquake himself. As the only intern from Northridge, I was assigned to the Earthquake Project. I acted as a liaison between constituents and the Small Business Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other governmental agencies that handled quake reconstruction monies. Because of my experience, I was again able to empathize with victims in a way that neither the staff nor the other interns could. As a result of my work, I gained a more profound grasp of the legal process and how it was able to help Northridge residents with their post earthquake problems.

The January 17 earthquake dramatically changed my world — both inside and out. In the Red Cross shelter and in Congressman Smith's office, my career ambitions took shape: Public interest law grabbed me. Now I want to help those who cannot purchase legal services, not only by providing the empathy gained during my own trying experiences, but also by using the skills and knowledge I will acquire at the ABC Law School. With this preparation, I look forward to helping others escape their legal or bureaucratic "twilight zones."

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