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Spotlight: Transforming Adversity into Success – Zelle Hofmann 2012 Diversity in Law Scholarship Recipient Lisa Jacobsen

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2012

Spotlight: Transforming Adversity into Success – Zelle Hofmann 2012 Diversity in Law Scholarship Recipient Lisa Jacobsen
(Left to right) Qianwei Fu, Lisa Jacobsen and Heather Rankie
Written by Qianwei Fu; interview conducted by Qianwei Fu and Heather T. Rankie, Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP

Success in the affairs of life often serves to hide one's abilities, whereas adversity frequently gives one an opportunity to discover them. — Horace

We met Lisa Jacobsen on a beautiful, sunny afternoon just before sunset. Seated across the corner table at our meet-up place, Lisa flashes a 100-watts smile when asked about her summer. It has been rewarding. She speaks with joy and appreciation about her experience working as one of the diverse law-student interns at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which just ended in late July, a week before the on-campus recruiting season started. The timing was great. In the last week of July, she and her fiancé embarked on a vacation to Hawaii where they spent some well-deserved time relaxing on the beach. A week later, she is already submerged in intensive on-campus job interviews. “I may look a little wobbled,” she says, “I had nine interviews today.” To the contrary, she looks energetic and radiant from the inside out.

It is hard to associate this vibrant, pleasant young lady with the story of someone who has experienced a myriad of hardships from an unconventional upbringing and a disadvantaged childhood. From the beginning, she has overcome adversity. Lisa was born a premature baby to a teenager mother in Korea. At 2 pounds, 11 ounces, she fought for life in an incubator for three months until being adopted by two loving parents in California. As a transracial adoptee, the struggle with her identity was difficult in itself. But it transformed into a great asset of her. In her own words: “it became a part of who I was, and I learned to embrace my uniqueness. In fact, it came to define me. Being an interracially adopted child helped define me and shape my values. I learned very quickly that positive outcomes can be taken from any situation with the right approach.”

Over the course of her childhood, Lisa’s family relations broke down and both parents suffered debilitating hardships. Struggling to survive in a dysfunctional familial environment, Lisa has become at a very young age an incredibly responsible and self-sufficient individual. “During that time, I knew that it was important for me to get an education, so my brother and I would walk six miles to school if we did not have money for the bus. Despite the circumstances, I did not miss a day of school. I felt that the only way to get out of the situation was to get good grades and be successful in my academics.” She focused all her energy on schoolwork and strived to earn good grades. Upon high-school graduation, she had earned over a 4.0 GPA and had been admitted to UC Berkeley. Misfortune struck the family once again when Lisa lost her mother soon after starting her first semester of college. With little time to grieve, she returned to school and was determined to devote herself wholeheartedly to her education. She managed to graduate from UC Berkeley in three and a half years, while working 20-30 hours a week to offset educational expenses.

Her hardships during her younger years have only sharpened, not shattered, Lisa’s goal to help others. She learned to embrace her unique qualities and transform those qualities into something powerful. As a member of PACT, an adoption alliance for transracial adoptees, Lisa did volunteer work to help address the unique needs and concerns faced by parents and their adopted children. “Growing up, nobody was there to help my family with those issues and I did not have an opportunity to learn the culture I was born from. Attending PACT’s workshops and events also helped me [understand the different perspectives].” As a tutor of Academic Advantage’s No Child Left Behind Program, she gave in-home, one-on-one instruction for disadvantaged children in grades K-12 and met with parents in lower-income households to create individualized tutoring plans for their children. But for her, nothing would be more fulfilling than becoming a lawyer. After her first legal job as a case manager at a family law office, Lisa was determined to go to law school, “because while I was growing up, I was not afforded that option. I was not able to turn to someone for help or guidance.”

Lisa is now headed to her second year at UC Hastings College of the Law. “Winning Zelle Hofmann’s Diversity in Law Scholarship means a lot to me. It has been difficult these days for many outstanding individuals from diverse backgrounds to get financial help in their academic pursuits. The firm does an excellent job promoting diversity in the legal profession.”

“Coming from the background that I come from, I have a unique perspective. I’m grounded, knowing what the real world looks like. I’m really grateful for what I have and I’m happy to be where I am. I also learned how to appreciate people from different backgrounds and perspectives. If everyone comes from the same place, you won’t be able to get a very good work product.” She defines diversity as the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs, experiences, and skills to the groups. “It is not just race, gender, or sexual orientation. It does not just fit in one category.”

Lisa Jacobsen exemplifies our vision for this scholarship. We are truly inspired, by this happy, intelligent, and diligent young lady who is acutely aware of the strengths that can be born out of life’s adversities and who has the craving to transform them into great successes in life.