Victoria’s winning essay:
On my first day of Teach For America-Baltimore, I was asked: “Who are you to teach here?” My initial inclination was to respond that I am educated, a leader, and am passionate about seeing children succeed. I am a first-generation college student who had to work my way through undergrad and know how to tackle adversity. However, to say I was naïve and underprepared would be an understatement. In addition to the challenges of being a new classroom teacher, I had never truly grappled with systemic injustices similar to those my students faced. I was inspired to join Teach For America from my experience attending a charter high school that aimed to prepare minority and first-generation students to be college-bound. Also, in college, I interned at the San Diego Superior Courthouse, providing free legal services to an array of people from low-income and racially diverse backgrounds. Even though I had never stepped foot in a classroom in a capacity other than being a student, and had never even been to Baltimore, I still wanted to see my students succeed. I was assigned to an elementary school in East Baltimore as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, working with primarily Spanish-speaking undocumented students. As I learned more about my students’ experiences of growing up in an incredibly underfunded and underrepresented community, I began to understand the fragility of my students’ day-to-day choices. Preventable mistakes can far too often trap them in a lifetime of limitations that are beyond their control, just because of the circumstances of their upbringing. This was beyond anything I had witnessed first-hand in my education, or second-hand serving my hometown of San Diego. I became determined to start seeking remedies that were beyond my capacity as a teacher to fix. I recognized that my impact as a teacher could only go so far as to mitigate these injustices, which lead me to apply for law school. I hope to be able to make a meaningful difference in the lives of a few people in the next generation through a career in criminal defense, so they can continue the momentum towards real, long-lasting change. My background as an educator made me understand that sometimes people engage with the justice system due to systemic factors, which should be considered when determining sentencing, and encourage more restorative practices. I had my first experience with criminal defense in my hometown this past summer at the San Diego Public Defender’s Office, and will be returning to Federal Public Defense this summer in an Appellate Internship. I understand that by pursuing a career in public interest law I will forego much larger income opportunities. Your scholarship will directly help reduce my debt and the overall financial burden of law school, enabling me to pursue my goal of working in the public sector upon graduation to benefit underserved communities and become a juvenile public defender. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to apply for this scholarship.