ASU Law spring graduates committed to public service

May 17, 2022

Drawing inspiration to pursue his Juris Doctor (JD) from an attorney who helped his family and his mother, an aspiring small business owner, first-generation student Jonathan Chavez knew that earning the JD would position him to give back in ways that make a direct impact on people’s lives.

“That attorney changed our life,” he said. “Simply knowing the laws, telling (my mother) what to do and helping her in that way, had such an impact on me that from there on, I wanted to help people understand the law.” ASU Law Juris Doctor spring 2022 graduates. ASU Law Juris Doctor spring 2022 graduates. Download Full Image

Chavez exemplifies the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and its namesake, Justice O’Connor, whose legacy of breaking down barriers, serving the public and upholding the rule of law continues to inspire ASU Law students today. He joins the more than 450 ASU Law degree candidates who came together on May 11 at the college’s spring 2022 convocation ceremony to celebrate their hard-earned accomplishments.

ASU Law conferred degrees to Juris Doctor, Master of Legal Studies (MLS), Master of Human Resources and Employment Law (MHREL), Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB) and Master of Laws (LLM) candidates.

ASU Law also welcomed back graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 and recognized the first MHREL graduating class during the ceremony.

“Today, you have reached a level of education that very few in this country or the history of the world have ever reached,” Co-Interim Dean Adam Chodorow said. “You should be proud of all you have accomplished.”

The graduates were joined by two distinguished speakers and ASU Law alums, MLS convocation speaker Judge Roslyn O. Silver and JD convocation speaker Ambassador Harriet "Hattie" C. Babbitt.

“When I entered the Arizona State University law school, the beautiful and new law school, with only four other women, we became good friends,” Silver said.

Silver, a senior United States district judge, was the first woman appointed in the Phoenix Division, the second woman appointed in the District of Arizona, and later became the first woman to serve as chief judge for the District of Arizona. 

Since then, Silver noted, the legal field has experienced extraordinary changes, including when O'Connor became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“On the first Monday in October of this year, almost 50% of the Supreme Court Justices will be women,” Silver said. “There will be four women seated on the Supreme Court of the United States, and 13 years ago, the first Hispanic was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. And as we all know, on the first Monday in October, the first Black woman will be on the bench, sitting with everyone else, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.”

ASU Law has created an inclusive community that celebrates diverse backgrounds and perspectives, with a strong commitment to service. First-generation graduate Ashlyn Saenz-Ochoa knows firsthand the value of diverse experiences and the importance of having diverse voices the courtroom.

“We need those who have diverse experiences representing people,” she said. “Really, law is law, but it’s about humanity because it affects humans. When you have lived experiences among law students, it enhances the law, it brings it to life.”

As part of the third graduating class and one of the few female students at the time, as well as one of the first students in William C. Canby’s Indian Law seminar, Babbitt also addressed the graduates. She shared her thoughts about ASU Law, the practice of law, the practice of life and what O’Connor’s legacy can teach everyone about those things.

“From day one, the law school stressed civic responsibility and the importance of being of service to the community,” she said.

Babbitt holds a distinguished record in both private practice and public service and served as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States and as the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

It’s a responsibility Babbitt has carried with her since graduating from ASU Law, and a commitment that ASU Law students continue to model.

During their time attending ASU Law, the spring 2022 class participated in a total of more than 100,000 hours of externship work and nearly 20,000 hours of pro bono work in a variety of legal fields.

“On a good day in practicing law, you have to marvel that someone is paying you to learn about a totally new area of life and law,” Babbitt said. “Learning how to break down unfamiliar material and to understand it is one of the great gifts of legal training.”

The journey to a law degree is hardly an easy path. There are moments of struggle, angst and doubt. There are also moments of victory, success and triumph. This May, students finished that journey as accomplished legal professionals.

“Sandra Day O’Connor revered the law and celebrated life,” Babbitt said. “I urge you to model Justice O’Connor’s enthusiasm for law and for life. May all of you be fortunate enough to find a future that includes a reverence for the rule of law, an enthusiasm for a practice of life and a commitment to public service.”

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager, ASU Online

Practicing law by leading with compassion

May 2, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Born and raised in Arizona, Ashlyn Saenz-Ochoa was naturally drawn to ASU when she decided to pursue her undergraduate degrees. The Peoria resident double-majored in political science and history. Portrait of Ashlyn Saenz-Ochoa, ASU Law Juris Doctor (JD) graduate. Ashlyn Saenz-Ochoa, ASU Law Juris Doctor (JD) graduate. Download Full Image

The Teach for America program led her to Las Vegas, and after a few years working for the Department of Defense, her Sun Devil roots brought her back to Arizona where she enrolled at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law to pursue her Juris Doctor.

Arizona brought Saenz-Ochoa closer to her family but also to the many experiential opportunities ASU Law offers. 

While at ASU Law, Saenz-Ochoa had the opportunity to work with Judge Diane J. Humetewa at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.

“I remember walking into the courthouse and seeing the beautiful emblem in the courtroom and feeling such awe and gratitude for being there,” she said.

Saenz-Ochoa also interned with the Arizona Federal Public Defender’s Office, further solidifying her passion for public defense, specifically federal public defense. 

Through the ASU Law 3L Residency Externship Program, she’s working with the Karina Ordonez Law Office, PLLC, gaining extensive experience and confidence as an advocate. 

Her advocacy work goes beyond the classroom. Saenz-Ochoa has been the Youth Development Chair for the Chicano Latino Law Student Association (CLLSA) for the past two years. Through that role and with a committee, she provides monthly seminars to high school students at Aguila Youth Leadership Institute. 

Saenz-Ochoa encourages and guides students who are interested in a legal career. 

“This role is something that has truly brought me much fulfillment to serve the youth in this program,” she said.

Additionally, Saenz-Ochoa was part of the ASU Law chapter of the Mindfulness in Law Society as a student, and most recently became the organization’s president. To share more about her ASU Law experience and what she hopes to accomplish next, we spoke to Saenz-Ochoa.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized what field you wanted to study?

Answer: I took a “Find your Career” quiz my freshman year in high school and it had “lawyer” listed. It had a pull-down menu that listed all the different kinds of lawyers, and I saw “immigration lawyer.”

My father and extended family on my father’s side are immigrants from Mexico. This was always a sense of pride for me growing up, but also a sense of stress and struggle. Discovering that there was a lawyer who helped others find better opportunities here in the United States, like my family did, felt full of purpose and service. 

Going into law school, you do not need to choose a major or specific field of interest, but I found myself naturally choosing classes that taught topics of criminal justice and public defense. Through this experience, I have found that my passions lie in criminal public defense and immigration. 

Due to the nature of our immigration laws and the functioning of our criminal justice system, the two often converge. This is a term that some call “crimmigration.” I have been given many opportunities in my life, and I intend on using my education to be of service to others. I believe strongly that humanity is necessary in law, and I will dedicate my career to further that basic belief.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU Law — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned about how close I was to missing out on who I was meant to be. I have re-learned and retraced the steps that little Ashlyn dreamed of. I have pulled my old dreams, my old hopes, and all my convictions back from the darkness of what I thought society wanted of me, what my culture wanted of me, and what others wanted of me. I have learned to set boundaries, learned how to heal, and learned how to keep on learning. I’ll always be learning, because to me, the law is about humans because it affects humans. And as humans, we must all seek to do this work with compassion. And compassion is a practice that must be continuous and relentless. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU Law?

A: ASU Law chose me, and it was meant to be. I was working full time while in the process of applying for law school. I was also going through much in my personal life, so deadlines for applications came sooner than expected. I had planned on only applying to one law school that was in line with where I thought I might be moving to, for other reasons. I remember applying after hours at work in my office and deciding at that moment to apply to ASU Law. I was aware that ASU Law was ranked higher than the other school I was applying to, but something told me to apply anyway. So I did. I ended up getting a call on a cold February morning congratulating me on getting accepted into ASU Law. I cried and then immediately called my mom. I knew that this was meant for me and that it would also change the course of my life in many ways. Getting accepted into ASU Law was a catalyst for change in my life; a catalyst for realigning my path to be true to me.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There have been many professors and mentors who have taught me one important lesson. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not be embarrassed to ask for help. Do not hesitate in asking if there are other options, and always speak with forthrightness about what you are dealing with. I would not be where I am right now or have had the opportunities I have had without the support and mentorship within the legal community.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: You are more than your worst grade and you are more than your best grade. You as an individual have so many amazing and interesting aspects to yourself, and any missed assignment, missed opportunity or denied internship does not outweigh all the hard work you have done so far. You are here, right now; revel in that fact. You made it this far amidst all the challenges, and at the end of the day, you are you, and that is a beautiful thing. 

Q: What advice do you have for students who may be interested in pursuing a law degree?

A: My advice is specifically for those who are first-generation, non-traditional or diverse students. Your presence in law school will be in direct defiance of the efforts of many for decades. There are still residual effects of those times, and you will feel it when you read the cases in your casebook. You will feel it when you hear some of your peers answer questions in certain ways. It will be heavy at times, and it will feel expensive a lot of the time. But don’t forget that you being there in that classroom, learning the law, alongside others is revolutionary. Speak your truth, stay authentic to your story, and find joy in the fact that you are there in spite of all the challenges or setbacks.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Two words: bar prep.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would use that money to try and give as many children an early childhood education (as possible). I believe strongly that early childhood education helps children to develop their social-emotional and cognitive skills. I also believe that for children who are learning English as a second language, children who are dealing with trauma or poverty, that early childhood education helps to provide a more equal education. I was a child who attended Head Start, and I remember the red nails and yellow jeep of my teacher, the baby beluga songs we would sing, but also learning to love learning. It left an impression on me that I still remember to this day. I would want to provide that for as many children as possible.

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager, ASU Online