Fasano Receives Honorary Degree from Quinnipiac Law School [New Haven Register]

May 12, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New Haven Register

HAMDEN >> Yale University Law School Professor Harold Hongju Koh, considered one of the country’s leading experts on international, national security and human rights law, told 113 men and women graduating from Quinnipiac Law School Sunday to always remember the phrase “I don’t know” and the word “no.”

Koh told students they will say, “I don’t know,” a lot during the first few years as lawyers, and they should.

“It’s a long way from being a good law student to being a good lawyer. Especially at the start, you will not be sure. Don’t fake it; be honest.” said Koh, who has 14 honorary degrees — he also accepted one from Quinnipiac Sunday — and who has more than 30 awards for his human rights work.

On saying, “no,” Koh told graduates, “All lawyers want to tell your clients yes. What is much harder is to tell them “no.” As one of my predecessors as legal adviser (to the State Department) put it, ‘never tell your client no, when the law and conscience say yes. But never, ever say yes, when the law says no.’”

Also receiving an honorary degree Sunday was class of 1984 alumni state Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, minority leader and president and founder of the North Haven law firm Fasano, Ippolito & Lee.

Fasano told graduates that just being a lawyer doesn’t guarantee success, but you have the ability to make a difference in the world, since interpretation of law is the key to a successful and free society.

Law School Dean Jennifer Brown used a sailing metaphor to let graduates know they are steering their own ship — in charge of the journey — and along the way should find their “centerboard” to keep them in the right direction. That centerboard could be a trusted friend, family member or even faith, she said.

“You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust the position of your sails,” Brown said. “The winds — particularly in our profession — blow hard … Catch whatever wind you can.”

Koh, proud to say he is a “New Haven boy,” and parents of immigrants from South Korea, worked for about four years as the 22nd legal adviser of the U.S. Department of State in the Obama administration.

“…While I was in government, not one day passed that I did not marvel that the son of Korean immigrants was giving legal advice to a woman secretary of state and an African-American president, all of us lawyers, in a country where not so long ago, none of us would have had the right to vote!” he said.

Since Sunday was Mother’s Day, Koh called for a standing ovation in honor of moms and gave a big shout-out to his wife of 30 years, Mary-Christy Fisher, and his mom, Hesung Chun Koh. Koh said his wife is a “wholly committed lawyer,” who has served the public interest throughout her career, most recently returning veterans at Connecticut Legal Veterans Center. He said his mom, who has a PhD, is an immigrant and first-generation American who came to America from South Korea almost 70 years ago as a college freshman. His late father was once a Korean diplomat in Washington.
His mom always emphasized giving back and to that end, he recited what he said is his mother’s favorite saying: “Never let your skill exceed your virtue.”

As lawyers, you will develop skills that will give you power that few possess: the tools to throw people in jail, to save millions of dollars, to destroy people’s lives. Please use these tools wisely. But remember that each has its time and place,” Koh said.

He told the graduates of all hues and both genders, various ethnic backgrounds, “As I look out over your class, I can’t help recall what Jackie Robinson once said about baseball. He said, ‘You know, It became a much, much better game when everyone could play.’

“As your law school days end, Class of 2015, let me ask you this question, posed by the poet Mary Oliver in her poem ‘The Summer Day’: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’”

He encouraged graduates to take the lessons of Quinnipiac Law School to promote public and private interests and ‘‘promote the public good as you see it.’’

“After law school, when I told my mom about the income I would be earning at my new firm, she paused and asked, ‘But do they need you the most? You have so much privilege. You have the most privilege. Isn’t it time for you to serve the least privileged?’”

Koh said that at his own Harvard Law School graduation, law was described as the “wise restraints that make us free.” He spoke of the importance of international law in a time when global solutions are needed the most and told graduates to take risks and try new things.

“Ships are safe in harbor, but harbors are not what ships are for. Others will urge you to play it safe. You must urge yourself to take chances,” Koh said. “The only shame is in never daring, and your greatest satisfactions will come when you succeed in the face of your greatest fears.”