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June 23, 2003

Internships open doors for aspiring lawyer

By Jennifer McNulty

Jenny Jiang has had her heart set on going to law school since she was 13 years old. This fall the UCSC legal studies major is enrolling at Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley.

Read the text of Jenny Jiang's speech at Cowell College's commencement.

Photo: Jenny Jiang

"If you’re motivated and know what you want, there are so many more opportunities here than there are in other places," said Jenny Jiang. Photo: Jennifer McNulty

It’s a dream come true for Jiang, who immigrated to the United States from China when she was nine years old. But the dream may have a slightly different ending after four years at UC Santa Cruz, where Jiang discovered a passion for public service.

"I came to UCSC determined to study law because I wanted to be an attorney with a briefcase brimming with money on my side," Jiang told the crowd gathered June 14 for the Cowell College commencement ceremony. "I am walking away four years later determined to devote my life to public service."

Jiang attributes the shift in her priorities to opportunities she had during college. She excelled academically, with a minor in East Asian studies, while pursuing off-campus academic internships.

By graduation, Jiang had interned in the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the offices of former California Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fred Keeley and Assemblyman John Laird.

"I was encouraged--even compelled--by faculty members to take all that I’ve learned into the outside world, and to really become an active member of this community," Jiang told the commencement gathering.

From drafting pretrial motions for the assistant district attorney to preparing the social histories of people hopelessly addicted to drugs for the public defender, Jiang got an insider’s view of the legal system before entering the world of politics.

In Keeley’s office, Jiang started out helping constituents, including a man who was tracking down the World War II military medals of a gravely ill family member.

"That was the best thing about the internship--almost every day, you’re helping someone and making a difference," said Jiang. "And people are so grateful. Sometimes they’ll write a letter thanking you--to me, those letters mean the world."

As her responsibilities grew, so did Jiang’s passion for the law. She says she was hooked from the moment she read her first legal case during freshman year. "I thought ‘This is so hard--I love it!’" she recalled. "The language was so convoluted, it took me an hour to figure out who won. But I found it fascinating, and I eventually got the hang of it. Now, when I open my casebook, I feel like I’m opening a gift."

During her junior year, Jiang took Introduction to International Law with politics professor Isebill "Ronnie" Gruhn and discovered a mentor who would become her adviser on her senior thesis. "She’s the most amazing lady," Jiang said of Gruhn.

"She is reassuring and disciplined, fair and demanding. I don’t know who I would’ve been without her during my college years."

Jiang wrote her senior thesis about the international criminal court in The Hague, the first permanent international court created to try cases of human rights violations, genocide, and war crimes. Jiang received the Dean’s Award and the Chancellor’s Award for her critique of the Bush administration’s opposition to the court, but she wanted to do more, so she drafted a resolution in support of the court and put it before the Santa Cruz City Council. Presented by then-Mayor Christopher Krohn and City Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice, the resolution was approved September 10, 2002, by a vote of 5-1.

"That was my moment of glory," said Jiang. "I can’t believe that I was allowed to stand before a lawmaking body and present my idea. To have them accept the resolution was profound. Looking back on it, it seems gutsy! Part of me still cannot believe that I went through with it."

Jiang’s zeal for learning extends beyond the legal field: She studied Chinese because she didn’t want to lose her heritage, and she spent hours learning about recombinant DNA for a bioethics class she found interesting. Nothing competes with her love of the law, however.

"Knowing another culture besides the United States made me more aware of other types of politics, other forms of government, and other forces that come into play in shaping law and policy," said Jiang.

For Jiang, UCSC offered opportunities to pursue her interests in a supportive environment. "At UCSC, if you’re motivated and know what you want, there are so many more opportunities here than there are in other places," she said.

"Everybody in Santa Cruz has been so open and available to me--even prominent people in government have taken time to mentor me--and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their guidance and encouragement," said Jiang. "I’ve met amazing professors, policy makers, and friends in Santa Cruz, and for that, I am grateful. I really wanted to put myself out there for the community that has done so much for me."

This article is part of Profiles in Excellence, an ongoing series highlighting the outstanding educational opportunities and achievements of UCSC students and graduates. Other profiles are posted on the Profiles in Excellence web page.

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