At age 23, Warren Ko ’09 has already spent a lot of time shattering stereotypes. “People don’t meet many Asian-Americans who were raised by a single father on an ostrich farm,” he says. “Or law students, for that matter.”
Ko was one of just four U.S. law students recently named 2008 Latham & Watkins Diversity Scholars. Selected from more than 250 applicants, he will receive a $10,000 scholarship for his final year at Boalt. Factors considered in choosing the scholars include academic and leadership achievements, life experiences, challenges that have shaped values, and a desire to practice at a global law firm and contribute to its diversity objectives.
It marks the second straight year a Boalt student has earned this prestigious honor. Last year, Grace Chu ’08 was named a Diversity Scholar by Latham & Watkins, a firm with 25 offices and more than 2,100 attorneys. “Our Diversity Scholars epitomize the values of leadership, character and ambition that underpin the scholarship program,” says Sharon Bowen, co-chair of the firm’s diversity committee. “Their stories of triumph to defy the odds and to rise above great personal challenge are inspiring and show spirit and fortitude.”
Candidates submitted written applications, and finalists met with a selection panel comprised of Latham & Watkins partners, associates, and management members.
Growing up in Rainbow, California, a small rural town about 50 miles north of San Diego, Ko confronted the challenges of assimilation. His father emigrated from China in 1971 and eventually moved Warren and his twin sister Mimi onto a farm. With free rent in exchange for taking care of the owner’s ostriches, he used his Chinese art training to make decorative ostrich eggs—a collector’s item in various art markets.
“Throughout my childhood my father would say, ‘Hey, you can do this your whole life or study harder,’ Warren recalls. “I know that motivated me and also my sister. He also emphasized being a good person and serving the community, and how that’s more important than material possessions or prestige.”
When Mimi left for Harvard, Warren made a shorter trip to Stanford with the help of a Gates Millennium Scholarship— for outstanding minority students with significant financial needs—from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He graduated in 2006 with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Chinese, and was a research assistant for Carolyn Wong’s book “Lobbying for Inclusion: Rights Politics and the Making of Immigration Policy.”
Ko has remained plenty busy at Boalt. He volunteers at the Workers’ Rights Clinic and Community Legal Outreach, is a member of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, works on the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, and participates in moot court. All while taking a full load of classes and serving as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class (Chinese Law and Society) taught by Boalt professor Robert Berring.
“Diversity is very important to me and my main focus is breaking some of the stereotypes that Asian-Americans face,” Ko says. “That’s part of why I’ve really enjoyed moot court, to help counter the stereotype that Asian law students are more interested in scholarship than advocacy.”
This summer, Ko will work as a business litigation associate at Bingham McCutchen in Santa Monica before returning for his final year at Boalt. In the meantime, he will continue his effort to tear down ethnic stereotypes while trying to build more unity among Asian-Americans.
“There isn’t just one Asian immigrant experience and Asian-Americans don’t want to be labeled in universal terms,” Ko says. “Many Asian groups don’t want to be identified with the term ‘Asian-American’ because they’d rather be associated with their individual group. But that can be a problem politically in terms of bringing Asian groups together. The challenge is to maintain our own identities while uniting to help advance some of our common goals.”
— By Andrew Cohen