Asian American Alumni Celebrate

Twenty years after graduating from Stanford Law School, Carol Lam ’85 had no idea how much had changed. “When I heard that the school wanted to start an Asian alumni association,” Lam joked, “I thought, ‘That’s great, but do you really want an alumni association with only seven people?’”

During the decade Lam attended Stanford, the law school produced 37 Asian American graduates. In the last 10 years, 228 have graduated—a difference that prompted Lam to feel “like Rip Van Winkle.” Speaking at the association’s launch in April, Lam, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, added that at law schools in the early 1980s, Asians “were viewed as oddities, as people who couldn’t cut it in science. Today, it is an entirely different world.”

About 100 Asian and Pacific Islander American lawyers and lawyers- in-training—whose association with the school spans 60 years—gathered in Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center in April to celebrate the launch of the Stanford Law School Asian Pacific American Alumni Association. They sipped wine, sampled appetizers and desserts, visited with old friends, and heard from a number of fellow alumni.

Ivan Fong ’87, chairman of the association, said that the goals of the new organization are to increase Asian and Pacific Islander graduates’ involvement with the law school and to provide mentoring for new graduates and students. “One valuable asset that’s often overlooked are the alumni,” he said. “At the same time, our alumni are more diverse. This organization came about because of the confluence of these two factors. We exist to bring together Asian Pacific Americans of the law school—not only to reconnect to the school but to share experiences.”

Hon. Delbert Wong ’48, who works as a private judge since retiring from the Los Angeles Superior Court, said that although he was Stanford’s first Asian American law graduate, he never felt out of place on the Farm. In the 1940s, when he returned from Europe where he had been a U.S. Air Force navigator during World War II, he was just another veteran seeking an education. “At the time, it really didn’t occur to me that I was a minority,” he said.

Wong realized what an anomaly he was only after graduating. In the 1950s, when he was trying cases as deputy attorney general in Sacramento, the handful of Chinese American lawyers in California were mostly doing immigration work in San Francisco. “Most people had never seen an Asian American lawyer,” he said, adding that when one attorney told him he spoke “pretty good English,” he responded, “So do you!” Wong’s enrollment at Stanford wasn’t the only—or even the most significant—trailblazing of his career: in 1959, he became the first Chinese American judge in the continental United States. 

The law school launched the Asian Pacific American Alumni Association as part of a series of alumni associations for minority graduates. It kicked off the Latino Alumni Association in November 2003 and started the Black Alumni Association in May 2004. The school plans to launch a Native American alumni association this fall. Minorities comprised 34 percent of the law school’s 514 students this year.