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dean handing diploma to law graduate
Miss Hawaii Courtney Choy receives her diploma from UH law Dean Camille Nelson.

Courtney Choy grew up going to court with her mother, a court interpreter, when childcare was not available. She would watch the action from the benches at the back of the courtroom, the witness waiting room or the area where jurors waited. As a social worker, her father also regularly worked with the court system.

“I grew up in that environment, and saw how they used their talents and skills to help others, and I felt it was right to lend my voice to that too,” said Choy, who was crowned Miss Hawaii 2021 two days after participating in commencement activities for her juris doctorate diploma from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law.

“I grew up shy and not always speaking out, but law school helped me find my voice,” Choy added.

Choy’s voice as Miss Hawaii—and as a newly minted lawyer will be used to speak out on behalf of women and girls—to empower them, and build their belief in themselves.

graduate getting ready
Courtney Choy’s mother, Donna Peake, helps her prepare for graduation.

“I went into law school with that mindset—I’m here to serve Hawaiʻi. I can’t give up. I have to be this person for another child out there who is struggling,” said Choy. “When I was younger I struggled so much with self-doubt and confidence and learning to embrace who I was becoming. I want to reinforce that trust in yourself, and hard work, and perseverance will pay off. I want to bring that kind of confidence to girls of all ages—to work hard and never give up.”

“We are delighted for Courtney and her family. I know that she will use the access and reach granted by her Miss Hawaii crown to continue to do great things,” said Dean Camille Nelson.

Pro bono work

As the new Miss Hawaii, Choy’s social impact initiative of women’s empowerment is what she learned through her own struggles. It’s an issue she also saw firsthand during her pro bono service at the UH law school, working in the domestic violence division of the city prosecutor’s office.

The pro bono program is an integral part of the academic program at Richardson law school, and fosters in students a lifetime professional commitment to public service. While enriching their legal education, it also encourages law students to provide a portion of their 60 hours of commitment to persons of limited means or organizations that serve such persons. The program—initiated by law students back in 1991—recognizes the long tradition in the legal profession to serve the under-privileged and to ensure legal access for all.

“Looking at the issues surrounding domestic violence generally, that opened my eyes to how much injustice and challenge our state and nation face when it comes to women,” said Choy. “I want women to feel strong and empowered and never feel they have to compromise themselves in any situation.”

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

For more information, see the UH law school website.

–By Beverly Creamer

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