We are excited to announce one of the winners of our academic scholarships, Steve Hanson, a student at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Steve has demonstrated high scholastic achievement throughout obtaining his undergraduate and graduate degrees. Below is the essay that he has submitted:
My Career Decision Steve Hanson
What motivates a student with a physical disability from a lower socio-economic, single-parent family to pursue a goal of becoming a public defender who would represent the legal rights of society’s most vulnerable people, those who suffer discrimination because of race, color, poverty, or disability? During high school, I made such a decision, a decision that was motivated by my collective life experiences.
As a young boy, I realized that I would have to cope with a personal physical disability, Legg-Calve-Perthes. LCPD is a form of osteonecrosis, a degenerative disease that affects the proper development of the hip structure and occurs in approximately 5.5 of 100,000 children per year. At six years of age, I required bi-lateral hip reconstruction; and I will inevitably need additional hip replacement surgeries because this condition increases the risk of degenerative osteoarthritis.
High School and College Years: The Importance of Academics and Community Service
Though I could not participate in school sports and other physical activities, I did not want my disability to define my life. Rather, I wanted to define my life by the choices that I made, so I drew upon my determination to learn, distinguishing myself through academic engagement. I was an Advanced Placement scholar and earned the distinction of being valedictorian of my high-school class of 400 students.
My education made me aware of the many challenges that disadvantaged people face. Consequently, during high school, I decided to use my skills to help others in my community who also had life challenges. I sought out volunteer opportunities at various local agencies where the clients of underrepresented populations faced various life issues that ranged from academic failure and physical and mental disabilities to poverty and limited English. Initially, the purpose of my community service was simple: helping people who needed assistance with life challenges. However, as I continued to serve those in need, I learned by listening to their stories: stories about their poverty, stories about their disabilities and their academic failure in schools, and stories of their feelings of powerlessness. Gradually, I realized that my volunteering had evolved into a deeper understanding of the challenges that disadvantaged people face. Thus, I resolved to advocate on their behalf. By pursuing a career in law, I believe that I can make a difference in their lives by providing legal assistance. I want to distinguish myself as a leader who intends to make a legal difference in the lives of the disadvantaged.
During college, I was selected to be part of the Credo Honors Program, again taking advanced classes and earning a 3.88 G.P.A. before graduating magna cum laude. I also committed myself to an array of academic and extracurricular leadership experiences that reinforced my determination to serve the disadvantaged. I worked with the Campus Democrats to campaign for politicians who were concerned about social justice. With another pre-law student, I embarked on a research project concerning the county drug court, which exposed me to an alternative court for drug-addicted offenders. After completing the project, we presented the results of our findings to other undergraduate students. As my professional path clarified, I was selected for an internship at a local courthouse, which provided me the opportunity to observe disadvantaged people being represented by public defenders.
During my first year of law school in 2012, I made the Dean’s List and was nominated for the Burton Award Nominee for Excellence in Legal Writing. Currently my extracurricular activities include being a Student Advisor for Mitchell Mentors and a Staff Member for the William Mitchell Journal of Law and Practice. Additionally, I volunteer as a Tenant Hotline Operator at the Minneapolis HOME Line. My duties involve conducting client interviews and advising tenants of their legal rights. During the summer of 2013, I completed a Legal Externship with the Hennepin County Taxpayer Services. My legal duties included researching and compiling sample documents for the department policy manual. My current classes for 2014 include: Constitutional Law, Income Tax, Introduction to Tribal Law, and Estates & Trusts.
Thus, my varied service experiences during high school, college, and law school have helped me to learn the issues that society’s most vulnerable—the poor, the physically challenged, the elderly, etc.—face each day. Additionally, I realized that the disadvantaged need lawyers who are concerned with social justice who are willing to help them give voice to their social disadvantages. As a result of these experiences, I have become passionate about my journey to do something. I firmly believe that by pursuing the law profession, I will be able to continue impacting the lives of children and adults. However, I will be able to help at a different level—I will be able to help people who need legal assistance because of disadvantages that they face in their lives—social disadvantages that impede their pursuing an education, finding gainful employment, adequate housing, etc.
My Financial Need: The Importance of Scholarships
Though I come from a family of lower socioeconomic status, I never allowed that circumstance to affect my advocating on others' behalf. Rather, I believe that my public-service experiences illustrate my commitment to advance equity and diversity by becoming aware of the challenges of disadvantaged populations and by taking positive action, working with members of groups who are different from me in cultural background, age, gender, religion, and who also have historically been excluded from higher education.
In essence, my story is not so different from the lived experiences of those whom I want to assist, save that I have had the opportunity to gain an education—an education that I would like to continue. Because my single mother’s annual income is very limited, $26,000 per year, she has not able to financially contribute to my education. Rather than letting that deter me from my goal, I have been determined to seek scholarships to help with the costs of both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. In 2012, I successfully completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and I am currently a second-year law student at William Mitchell College of Law. Earning scholarship money for 2014-2015 is very important to my attending law school for the next year so that I can pursue my life’s goal of becoming a lawyer who would represent the legal rights of society’s most vulnerable. Receiving scholarships allows me to focus on my law education and less on the expenses that I am incurring, which total about $55,000 each year.
Additionally, I realize that my choosing a career as a public defender will not be as financially lucrative as other types of law careers; thus, it is important that I keep my college debt as minimal as possible so that I will be able to afford the loan repayment, based on my public-defender income. It is my sincere hope that the scholarship committee will find that my academic success, my concern and work with the disadvantaged, and my financial situation make me a worthy scholarship candidate.