Having once lived in the city of Indianapolis, I have experienced first-hand the type of damage that industry has on the environment, which has fueled my passion of protecting the earth and its natural beauty. My long-term goal is to become an environmental attorney and to hold large corporations accountable for the damage they have caused to our beautiful planet. Not only to protect our planet, but also for the plethora of families who need representation due to the loss of loved ones because of a lack of environmental regulation. I would like to be the voice for those who have experienced this loss, because, throughout my entire life, I have struggled with the idea that my dad could be alive still had there been better environmental standards in place in Indianapolis.

When I was one-and-a-half years old, my dad was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a cancer of the blood that is typically caused by carcinogens in the environment. Around the time of my dad’s diagnosis, my family lived within a half mile of a chemical holding facility that stored and transported chemicals such as Transmix, jet fuel, unleaded fuel, diesel fuel, and natural gas, most of which contain large amounts of Benzene, a known carcinogen that has been linked to multiple health conditions, including leukemia. The facility housed grandfathered holding tanks that did not, and still to this day do not have to follow current emission standards. When I was just three years old, my dad lost his year-and-a-half-long battle with leukemia.

My dad’s death resulted in growing up in a household of all women and three generations: my mom, sister and I, and my grandmother. Through this experience, I truly saw what it meant to be a strong woman. Having a single parent also forced me to be independent. Most mornings I found myself getting on the bus on my own, and most afternoons I came home to an empty house. These experiences constantly reiterated the concept of perseverant independence, where if I didn’t work for my personal well-being, I wouldn’t be able to be as successful as I needed to be for my family. With my dad’s death, neither my grandma nor my mom could help my sister and me pay for college, so from a very young age, I knew I would have to provide funds for myself. I worked incredibly hard in school, where I graduated fourth in my class and earned myself a spot in Purdue’s engineering program.

Eventually, I would like to use my Environmental and Ecological degree to promote environmentally friendly work in the manufacturing aspect of engineering and technology. My near-term goals are to get research experience in the environmental field through undergraduate courses and internships, while possibly participating in undergraduate research. In the long term, I intend to apply to law school to study environmental justice to ensure that companies follow safe environmental practices and uphold environmental policy. The world cannot be truly inclusive until we can have a healthy earth for every individual on it.

My journey has been one quite out of the ordinary, but I wouldn’t change that for any sense of normalcy. These challenges have taught me what it means to persevere and work through unideal circumstances. As I have grown into my years of college education, these unique aspects of my life have sufficiently prepared me for the demands of higher education, where the stress of homework, exams, and being on your own hasn’t even come close to the stress I have been exposed to through my life. I feel as if my circumstances have shown me that I can persevere through any challenge and that there are much more difficult tests in life than just college exams or massive presentations. Life can be tricky but navigating the world without perseverance will become even trickier.

Essay by: Grace Smith
Purdue University

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