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ASU Law grad achieves family’s American dream

A man in a black suit poses for the camera.

Edward Gao will graduate with his Juris Doctor from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in May. Courtesy photo

April 26, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Edward Gao was working as a project manager in the health and safety field in Los Angeles when he had an epiphany. 

“I was sitting in my office, drafting a declaration describing a heroin den cleanout I had overseen the previous day. I realized that my favorite part of the job was the writing,” he said. “The lawyers in the company were the ones who did most of the writing, so I decided I wanted to be one, too.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Southern California and earning an MBA from Loyola Marymount University while working full time, Gao’s next educational step was law school.

He chose to move to Phoenix to attend the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where he earned two prestigious scholarships: the Arjun Mody Endowed Scholarship, and the Simonson/Meyerson Family Scholarship. 

Gao, a native of Redlands, California, said he chose ASU Law for the personal, one-on-one mentorship the school provides, as well as the small class sizes. He worked closely with the Career Services Office throughout his three years to put him in the best position to find employment after graduation and get him where he wanted to go.

After several valuable externship experiences, Gao will graduate this May with his Juris Doctor and go on to clerk at the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 1.

“Choose your law school — and your future job — for the people, not the numbers,” he advised. 

Earning his JD is the pinnacle of everything his family has worked for for decades, according to Gao. 

“I'll be the first person in a family of immigrants to graduate from law school,” he said. “My family became citizens of this country in pursuit of liberty and opportunity. Now they have a son whose profession is steeped in the very same ideals they came here to find. This is the next step in our American dream.”

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

Answer: Words have power, but they are imprecise — I am reminded of this every time I say something dumb to my endlessly patient girlfriend.

The practice of law is the pursuit of truth, hidden somewhere in the imprecision. I didn't appreciate the gravity of that until I came to law school.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The people.

I learned I had been admitted to ASU through a personalized video message from former Dean Douglas Sylvester. Every other school just sent me a form letter that barely referenced my name. I knew right then that ASU was the kind of place that would care about me, and not just my tuition dollars. ASU has consistently lived up to that unspoken promise.

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

A: Trust yourself. You'll find yourself feeling the pressure — whether internal or external — to conform to some mold of what a law student should do or should be. But don't try to be someone you're not, even for a job. You'll find people who value you for exactly who you are already.

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

A: Water security! And I'd put Professor Rhett Larson in charge of figuring out how to spend the money.

Q: Who, if anyone, helped you get here?

A: My parents, to whom I owe everything.

My grandmother, who badgered me into making something of myself while she could still be around to see it.

John Hershberger Sr., who guided me toward every good decision I've made since deciding to apply to law school.

And Mark Adams, who took a chance on a dumb kid with a bad haircut and made him into someone worth employing.

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