April 1, 2017
Congratulations to the recipients of the 2017 AABA Law Foundation Scholarships, recently announced at the Annual Dinner:
- Garrick S. Lew Scholarship: Christopher Gueco (U.C. Hastings College of the Law)
- Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. Family Scholarship: Ana Duong (U.C. Berkeley School of Law)
- Joe Morozumi Scholarship: Christopher Gordon (University of Michigan Law School)
- AABA Law Foundation Scholarship: Wendell Lin (U.C. Hastings College of the Law)
- Asian Pacific American Judges’ Scholarship: Tarah Powell-Chen (USF School of Law)
Each winner will be profiled in the AABA newsletter, beginning with Christopher Gueco, recipient of the Garrick S. Lew Scholarship. AABA thanks the MTYKL Foundation for the grant that enabled the AABA Law Foundation to create this new scholarship for a third-year law student committed to a criminal defense practice after graduation.
Profile of Christopher Gueco (U.C. Hastings College of the Law, Class of 2017)
This is the personal statement Christopher submitted with his application for the Garrick S. Lew Scholarship.
In 2007, I was incarcerated for serious juvenile charges—two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with gang enhancements. By 2014, I became the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year university and attend law school.
My personal experience in the criminal justice system has led me to a deep appreciation for education. Not only has education allowed me to better myself, it has empowered me. It enabled me to utilize my personal experience within the system to give back to my community—to turn something negative into something positive. MY BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE REFLECT THE VALUES GARRICK S. LEW EXHIBITED OVER HIS LIFETIME
I spent my elementary years living in San Jose. My parents both immigrated from the Philippines and we lived in a one-story house along with my grandmother, six aunts, and their children. Although this house seemed crowded with seven families living under one roof, our home enabled our family to remain close and build bonds that extended beyond our immediate family. We may not have had much, but we had each other and our community.
Growing up, I personally witnessed and experienced the obstacles that many individuals in my neighborhood faced. From poverty and discrimination, to violence and police brutality, I witnessed it all. I always knew that I wanted to be an advocate for my community; I just needed the right tools.
I received my G.E.D. while incarcerated, received my AA degree from a community college shortly after I was released, then transferred to San Francisco State University (SFSU). At SFSU, I was awarded a fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). As an NIMH fellow, I focused on juvenile justice reform. I conducted a study that explored the success rates of formerly incarcerated youth and presented my findings at the Association for Psychological Science Convention. I also wrote a thesis that aimed to provide a greater understanding of how Asian American youth are viewed in the criminal justice system and presented my findings at the Association for Asian American Studies Conference.
Through these studies I was able to educate the public on the need for criminal justice reform. However, I wanted to have a more direct effect in my community. I wanted to be in the “front lines” in the fight for change. It was during this time I realized that my goal was to be a public defender, and decided to pursue a career in law.
As a student at the University of California, Hastings College of the law, I understand the responsibility and duty I owe to my community. During my first year at Hastings, I was a youth mentor for the Supporting Transitions & Aspirations Mentorship Program. Currently, as the Co-President for the Hasting Association of Youth Advocates, I aim to use my experience as a youth mentor to establish a Hastings’ youth mentorship program.
I believe that my personal experience and dedication to serve as an advocate for my community is closely related to my success in law school. I have received several awards, including the Hastings Public Interest Award and the Hastings Public Interest Law Foundation Grant. These awards, among other things, serve as motivation to continue towards my goal of being a public defender.
I AM COMMITTED TO A CAREER IN CRIMINAL DEFENSE
The only reason I went to law school was to be a public defender. My father once told me, “If you can handle or do what many cannot, then it is your responsibility [to do so].” I know how it feels to have the odds against me and how important it is to have someone by your side. I have had the odds against me prior to my incarceration, during, and after my release. However, I come from a family and community of fighters and fierce advocates. These individuals went above and beyond their roles and ensured that I did not face these odds alone. It was with their support that I am here today. During the last conversation with my grandmother, she told me “É mu kakalingwan ing pibatan mu” (“don’t forget where you came from”). I will never forget where I came from. I am a fighter, I am an advocate, and I will be a public defender.
In law school, I spent every summer and two semesters interning for public defender’s offices. In these offices, I participated in essentially all phases of the criminal justice process. Whereas my personal experience in the criminal justice system led me to a deep appreciation for public defense work, the experience I gained while working in these offices has provided me with the initial training required to be a public defender.
As a third-year law student, I have been offered post-bar positions at two public defender’s offices. Regardless of which office I work in, I know I will continue to serve my community, while gaining the experience required to be an advocate for change. The Garrick S. Lew Fellowship will provide me with the financial support needed as I take the next step towards my goal of becoming an individual who ensures that his community never faces “the odds” alone—a public defender.