Fordham Law School awarded the family of KJ Shin ’16 a posthumous diploma during a special ceremony this fall to celebrate his life and contributions to the School.
Shin, an aspiring patent lawyer from Korea, took a leave of absence from the Law School in March 2016, just two months before he was set to graduate, to begin chemotherapy for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He passed away at age 30 on July 1, 2017.
At the Nov. 9 ceremony, Fordham Law Dean Matthew Diller presented Shin’s father, Duck I. Shin, and mother, Myung H. Shin-Lee, his diploma and the hood that graduates wear, and, in doing so, told them they were now part of the Fordham Law community. Shin’s sister Ja Y. Gwak also attended the ceremony.
In his opening remarks, Dean Diller read from Shin’s application letter, in which he described flying to America as a teen on 9/11, why he sought to become a patent lawyer, and his “mature version of the American dream.” Diller also read from a subsequent letter to the dean of admissions in which Shin emphasized how much he believed he could learn from and contribute to Fordham. The letters provided insight into what motivated Shin to achieve so much in such a short time, Diller said.
The Hon. Danny K. Chun ’87, whom Shin interned with, and Professor Ron Lazebnik were among those who shared glowing memories of Shin at the ceremony, which was attended by more than 30 members of the 2016 graduating class.
Shin initially enrolled as an evening student at Fordham Law School in 2013. During his two and a half years at the Law School, he served as editor on the Fordham Environmental Law Review, an active member of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA), and an editorial fellow with the Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP). He also became a registered patent agent in 2013, participated in the Law School’s Habitat for Humanity program, and worked with fellow students and practicing attorneys to host a conference of Korean lawyers.
Shin received his cancer diagnosis in February 2016. One month later, he met with Nitza Escalera, assistant dean of student affairs and diversity initiatives, to discuss taking a leave from his studies. At the time, he spoke of his deep Christian faith and his unwavering desire to practice law.
“I remember in talking with him that he was optimistic that the chemo regime he was going to go through would be successful and he would be able to finish up school, because he really wanted to be a lawyer,” Escalera said. Shin even attended the 2016 graduation ceremony at the Beacon Theater to support his classmates—many of whom did not know he was ill, Escalera added.
Following Shin’s passing, his classmate Gina Kim ’16 inquired as to whether his family could receive a posthumous diploma. With Diller’s blessing, Escalera compiled statements from faculty, administrators, and Judge Chun as part of a petition to University Provost Stephen Freedman.
The brief anecdotes included within the petition illustrated Shin’s intelligence, drive, good humor, and desire to serve others.
After completing his first year at Fordham, Shin participated in the Fordham-Sungkyunkwan University College of Law Summer Institute in Korea. Professor Paolo Galizzi, the program’s director, described Shin in his petition comments as a “kind and hard-working student” who, in addition to his many activities at Fordham Law, helped connect Fordham Law students with a number of Korean bar associations in the New York metropolitan area.
In his spring 2015 capacity as an editorial fellow for CLIP, Shin helped publish the weekly e-newsletter CLIP-ings, which informs over 800 students and professionals about developments in information technology law. The July 14, 2017, edition of CLIP-ings was dedicated to Shin.
“He was smart, diligent, and ambitious; but more importantly in my view, I recall vividly that KJ was an exceptionally polite, positive, and pleasant person,” CLIP Executive Director N. Cameron Russell said in the petition.
Shin enrolled in the Law School’s Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property and Information Law Clinic in the fall semester of his third year. He continued working with patent firms in a part-time capacity even as he underwent chemotherapy, according to the petition.
In his quest to become a well-rounded lawyer, Shin also interned with Judge Chun in his second year. Judge Chun called KJ “… perhaps the most engaging and socially affable person you would ever come across” and remarked that even while he was sick he continued to look out for his family and friends.
“Heaven must have needed someone of his brightness and warmth,” the Judge Chun said.