2nd Quarter, 2008
Law School Scholarship Winner
Margaret Heinen is a 2008 graduate of Mercer University from Fitzgerald, Georgia. She graduated magna cum laude and recieved her Bachelor of Arts degree in music with university honors, and her Bachelor of Arts in English with departmental honors. From the time she arrived at college, Margaret was very involved on campus. She began by becoming a freshman senator for the Student Government Organization, and continued her involvement over the next four years. Margaret served as secretary for the Mercer College Republicans for her entire time at Mercer, as well as president during her senior year. She was also actively involved in several music programs, including Wind Ensemble, Orchestra, and various chamber ensembles.
A Portion of Margaret’s Winning Essay:
I didn’t want to read the book. As soon as I read the title I knew that it was not something that I would be interested in. The previous thirteen years of my life had been nothing more than a confusing blur of police officers, caseworkers, and lawyers, and the last thing I wanted to do was read a novel about the legal system.
I put the book back on the shelf with the hope that my adoptive mother would never bring it up again. I was wrong. Day after day she kept pushing me to read the novel that she had handed to me weeks earlier. “You’ll like it. Just give it a try,” she urged.
Eventually I gave in, and I am now glad I did. Ever since I read John Grisham’s novel, The Street Lawyer, my life has never been the same. In all of my family portraits, it looks as if my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, and I had the perfect life.
We lived in a suburb in New Jersey with a cat, a dog, and a tire swing in the backyard. It was only a five minute walk to the Jersey shore, so my grandfather would often take me there to play in the sand. My mother attended all of my school functions and did everything she could to get me involved in extracurricular activities. To the outside world, the people inside of that small house seemed to be living the American dream, but little did they know what horrors lurked inside that tiny bungalow with the white picket fence.
Day after day I would come to school with bruises on my arms and legs and I am certain that the teachers all wondered how clumsy I could possibly be. I tried to spend as much time as possible at school because I feared going home at the end of the day.
At night, I would have to hide to escape the arguments between my mother and grandfather that often ended with a visit from the police. Because of the violence, I became shy and exceedingly unsocial. The violence continued for 13 long years until my mother’s death. As soon as my siblings and I were placed in foster care, I knew that I had to do something so another child would never have to suffer like I did.
From the time I was a child I was at a disadvantage. I was born to a teenage mother who was more interested in partying than taking care of her daughter. Since my mother was not capable of acting as a responsible adult, I was raised by my two alcoholic grandparents. For years I had to endure the verbal and physical abuse of three adults who barely knew how to take care of themselves let alone a small child.
Soon my mother bore two other children, and my brother and sister joined our dysfunctional family. Night after night, my siblings and I would hide while my mother and grandparents would get into massive arguments that frequently concluded with a visit from the police.
Over the course of a school year I would be absent from more than a third of classes because of the violence that ensued in my house. Sometimes I would have to stay home to hide bruises, while other days I was too tired to stay awake in class because of the turmoil that arose during the night. It was not uncommon for social workers to take me out of class for questioning, which resulted in even more missed class time. Rather than letting my situation negatively affect me, and instead of using my circumstances as a reason to abandon my education, I chose learning as my escape from my household situation. My education provided an opportunity for me to explore the world outside of my home and create my own methods for determining what is reasonable and moral.
I was known for being intelligent and witty, and it was no surprise that I was on the honor roll each quarter. Although I could not control my situation at home, I could control my own education, which caused me to be very diligent regarding my schoolwork and fueled my desire to learn.
My family situation continued to worsen until elementary school, when my mother finally moved out of my grandparents’ home and relocated in Georgia. Although I was torn away from my friends and the only place I had ever lived, I continued to excel in every subject in my new school.
In middle school, I was in almost every extracurricular activity and club imaginable while I continued to make honor roll. As teachers and other community members applauded me for my efforts and success in school, my family was going through a very difficult time. In seventh grade, my siblings and I were put into foster care due to my mother’s alcoholism and abuse. She eventually lost her parental rights due to her noncompliance with social workers. All three of us were adopted by separate families, and several months later my mother died of cirrhosis of the liver due to her alcoholism.
My brother and sister were deeply affected by this loss and their distress was evident in their behavior following my mother’s death. My brother dropped out of school and ran away from his new home, while my sister attempted suicide multiple times and quit trying in school. As much as I was grieved by my circumstances, I finally came to realize that it is my education that has kept me motivated for all these years.
My siblings let bad circumstances affect their chances of becoming successful by dropping out of school. I refused to let other people’s mistakes dictate my life, and I continued to work even harder in school. It wasn’t until the fateful day that I began reading The Street Lawyer that I finally realized how I could help other people that are living in abusive homes. In the novel, Michael Brock deserts his high-paying job at a classy law firm to defend the homeless. Not only does his decision cost him money, it causes him to lose his wife and family as well. Regardless of what he loses, however, he continues to be a street lawyer because he knows that what he is doing is making a positive impact on the community.
Just as Michael Brock sought to help the community that he was in at a high personal cost, I realized that I wanted to help my community, regardless of what price I had to pay. After reading The Street Lawyer, I vowed that one day I would become an attorney so that I could be in the position to help those who have suffered from violence and abuse.
At the age of 16, I began volunteering at my local humane society. Although I was not helping people at that point, I was still in the capacity to help the animals at the shelter. While most of the animals were in perfectly fine condition, a few of them had been abused so badly that they were almost useless as pets. While most people would have given up on those animals, I spent my afternoons comforting those animals with the hopes of rehabilitating them so that they could be merged back into society. One dog had numerous cuts and burns all over his body because he had been tied up with rope and tossed in the dumpster outside of the shelter. The manager at the shelter insisted that the dog would never make a good pet because he had been so badly abused, but I insisted otherwise and eventually adopted the dog. After a few weeks of pampering, “Snoozer” was looking better and acting like any other dog in the shelter. Rather than giving up on the dog because he had been abused, I spent time trying to make that animal functional again, and it actually worked. It was at that point that I realized that if I could make that much difference to a dog, then I could certainly make an impact on a human being’s life.
During high school I volunteered with the Victim Witness Assistance Program and the District Attorney’s office so I could become more familiar with the legal system. I would help interview the victims that came in and I would assist in the preparation of temporary protection orders. Everyday it seemed as if more and more battered women were coming in to seek services from the office. Those women were not another statistic to me. I could identify with their stories and I understood what they were going through. When I finally got the chance to go to the courtroom with one of the women and I was able to see the expression of relief and joy on her face as her abusive boyfriend was sentenced to prison, I realized how important the work I was doing is to the people in my community.
Now that I am attending college at Mercer University, I have spent the past year volunteering with the Safe House and Crisis Line of Central Georgia, as well as the Bibb County Legal Advocate’s office. This volunteer experience has meant a lot to me because not only do I have the opportunity to help those in need around me, I can also connect with those people on a personal level as well. I have seen the horrors of living in an abusive home. I understand what the victims of domestic violence are going through. Although I was worried about the safety and mental wellbeing of the victims, one of my biggest concerns was the lack of efficiency in the legal system regarding these cases. In order to somewhat alleviate this problem, I helped prepare a new case plan for the Legal Advocate’s office that would allow them to be better equipped to assess a victim’s situation and decide what the appropriate response would be for that individual person. Once I realized that I wanted to become an attorney, I decided that my childhood experience has taught me a lot about who I am as a person, as well as about those who are facing similar situations as I have encountered. I concluded that I can use this knowledge to assist those who have not yet arrived at the point in their lives where they can look at their situation and realize what is happening.
When I volunteered at the Safe House, there were many mothers who were unaware of the affects of domestic violence on their children. One night during a Women’s Support meeting, a battered mother made the comment that she wished she could find out how much her children knew about domestic violence and how they felt about being in such an abusive home.
While some volunteers gave her generic advice, such as not to worry, I relayed my own childhood experience to the woman. Many children are unable to express their feelings in terms that can be understood, but since I went through the same experiences as these children, I was capable of articulating my own personal understanding of the subject. Although many people see my childhood as a negative occurrence, I am proud that I can use my background to help other people.
Ever since I decided what I wanted to do with my life, I have struggled to do everything in my power to grasp my dream of becoming a lawyer. Although I was passed between foster homes for three years after my mother’s death, I continued to do my best in school and refused to let my family situation affect my chances of going to college.
Every day that I attend classes, I push myself so I can get the best education possible. Rather than spending my college days partying and slacking off, I take the maximum amount of class hours allowable and I work three jobs on the weekend to support myself financially.
I am double majoring in music and English in order to expand my education beyond one field. While my English major allows me to develop my analytical skills and develop effective reasoning tactics, music requires the instrumentalist to have outstanding logical skills to perform properly as well as the ability to make quick decisions. These skills will be an asset to my future career as an attorney.
Rather than allowing my circumstances to define who I am, I persevered and became the person I wanted to be. As much as I was grieved by the situations I have encountered throughout my life, they have molded me into the person I am today, and as a result, I can help others understand and avoid the pain and suffering that I escaped. I have learned that although I may be let down by those who love me, and although my family may leave me, my education is something that can never be taken away.
I would be an asset to the field of law because my life experiences, in addition with an excellent law education, will allow me to fully understand the situations I am dealing with since I will be familiar with both the role of the client and the attorney. My lifetime goal is to be a successful lawyer and own my own firm, and I believe that law school is one of my first stops on this road to success. By successful, I not only mean monetary success. I want to be an asset to my community by informing the community about domestic violence and helping those victims who seek legal advice from me. I understand firsthand what those who suffer from domestic violence must endure, and it is my intention to help victims by giving them the legal council that they deserve to have.
By studying hard in college and being honest and dedicated to my work, I am sure that one day I will achieve this goal. Law is something that I love and just cannot get enough of. I revel in the thought of one day helping victims of domestic violence by providing good council and giving sound legal advice. Being an attorney would not be a job; it would be a hobby that I just happen to get paid for.
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