GJEL Awards $1,000 Scholarship to Student
Jack Weller decided he wanted to be an attorney when he was living in Mongolia and working in a branch of its government. Jack moved to Mongolia to learn about the country’s culture and politics in its post-Communist era. During his time there, he witnessed the Mongolian people’s struggle for, but unwavering commitment to, democracy.
“My own understanding of my role as a citizen was sharpened by seeing Mongolians proudly wave their flags,” Jack wrote in his scholarship essay. “I understood then that democracy has no more avid champions than those who have previously been robbed of its blessings.”
While in Mongolia, Jack worked in the country’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism. He researched the effects of climate change on Mongolia’s government. The country already endures extreme temperature swings and is expected to be drastically impacted by global warming. Jack studied how government policies regarding climate change would affect individual people and the country as a whole.
“More than just a study of how individual policies would affect a primarily pastoral society, this work was a lesson on how democracy, and a fair and open legal regime, allows for a polity to solve its most pressing challenges,” Jack wrote. “It was in Mongolia that I discovered this passion not only for democracy as a philosophical end in and of itself, but as a living, breathing process of governance, in which the law plays a vital role.”
After returning to his home state of California, Jack worked in political communications for a few years after earning a Bachelor’s degree in political science. Jack is now pursuing a legal education and is completing his first year at Stanford Law School.
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Read Jack’s Full Essay Below
Reasons I wanted to go to law school:
I looked with trepidation at the bowl of fermented mare's milk that had been placed in front of me. It was small but gave off a pungent odor, and the substance at the bottom looked unpleasantly like a cup of eggnog left out for too long in the sun. Here, in a tidy yurt at the edge of the Gobi Desert, the only gracious thing for me to do as a guest was to eagerly drink it, despite its unfamiliar scent and unpleasant reputation. In Mongolia, the drink is called airag, and it is a customary offering to every visitor. After a lifetime of guacamole and came asada in my native San Diego, I had found myself thousands of miles away, in a windswept patch of the steppe, obliged by courtesy to take a drink. The substance was acrid, viscous, and bitter, but I swallowed it down without hesitation.
I had come to Mongolia out of desire to learn about the workings of one of the world's most vibrant democracies, even in the midst of an era political scientists were already labeling the "democratic recession." Twenty-five years prior, Mongolian citizens had swarmed the streets of their capital, demanding an end to seven decades of Communist repression and vowing to build a better society for their children. Though locked between two authoritarian powers, and with little institutional memory of democracy, the struggle had been successful. Mongolia had achieved a remarkable level of human development for a country that had been almost entirely nomadic as recently as 50 years ago, and women made up a huge part of its educated and dynamic workforce. During the time of my visit, scholars were calling the robust multiparty democracy of Mongolia a model for developing societies worldwide.
While living in Ulaanbaatar, I worked for a subordinate branch of the country's Ministry of the Environment and Tourism, where I helped research the effects of the government's climate change mitigation programs on nomadic steppe communities. Mongolia will be one of the countries most severely affected by global climate change, and it already suffers from extreme swings of temperature. More than just a study of how individual policies would affect a primarily pastoral society, this work was a lesson on how democracy, and a fair and open legal regime, allow for a polity to solve its most pressing challenges. It was in Mongolia that I discovered this passion not only for democracy as a philosophical end in and of itself, but as a living, breathing process of governance, in which the law plays a vital role. It inspired my thesis on the evolution of unconstitutional appointments of "czars" to the American executive branch, and it drove me to work in political communications after graduation.
My own understanding of my role as a citizen was sharpened by seeing Mongolians proudly wave their flags on the 25th anniversary of their revolution. People gathered by the tens of thousands in Siikhbaatar Square, surrounding the Parliament Building in a show of celebratory patriotism. Many wept in the streets and chanted songs of freedom. I understood then that democracy has no more avid champions than those who have been previously robbed of its blessings.
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