Inside Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian Jr.’s chambers, a single brick from the oldest public high school in Southern California held down papers on his desk.
Rescued after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake from the rubble that was once Los Angeles High School, the old, chipped brick represents the senior federal judge’s devotion and ties to the City of Angels, where he was born and has lived his entire 66 years.
After Tevrizian graduated from Los Angeles High School, his father — a market owner who as a teen emigrated from Armenia to L.A. — offered his oldest child some advice.
“ ‘Son, you can go to any college you want, as long as it’s USC,’ ” Tevrizian recalled his father saying.
On a wall, amid many framed honors and awards, Tevrizian’s 1962 bachelor’s degree from USC College hung next to his law degree from the USC Gould School of Law. The distinguished judge, who will retire in early 2007, is among many USC College graduates who pursue a career in law.
Tevrizian majored in finance and accounting, graduating cum laude before attending law school. He comes from a family of Trojans. His brother and two sisters, as well as an uncle and cousin, are all USC graduates. His wife, Geraldine, whom he met at age 16 during an Armenian community church picnic, is also a Trojan.
“My dad owned a market right on Vermont [Avenue], in the West Adams district, close to the USC campus,” said Tevrizian, seated in his chambers at the Roybal Federal Building in downtown L.A. “So ’SC was always drilled into my head.”
The first Armenian-American appointed to the U.S. federal bench, Tevrizian helped to create the College’s USC Institute of Armenian Studies, which honored him in a banquet last year. In addition to his contributions to the institute, he is establishing a scholarship for inner-city and minority youths wishing to attend USC law school.
“I think everybody has an obligation to give back to their university, especially if you’ve been somewhat successful,” he said. “So, now it’s payback time.”
His success was reflected in the framed photos scattered around his chambers. There were photos of him shaking hands with presidents, including Ronald Reagan, who as a governor appointed him to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1972. At 31, Tevrizian was one of the youngest persons ever appointed to the judiciary. In 1989, President Reagan appointed him to federal court.
Tevrizian recalled when a young Reagan frequented his father’s market -- where Tevrizian began working at age 12 sorting Coke and Pepsi deposit bottles -- when the store moved to Crenshaw Boulevard.
“He was a man’s man,” Tevrizian said of Reagan. “A real gentleman.”
His fierce loyalty to the USC football team is legendary. Unless he was sick or away on business, he has been at every home game since 1958. His fraternity buddies from the Beta Theta Pi remain his closest friends.
USC students, he said, “are getting a quality education, and making fabulous contacts for the future. The undergraduates are going to have the best four years of their lives.”
An Early Start
About 14 miles west of the Roybal Federal Building, Lauralee M. Gooch gazed out her window from the 16th floor to bustling Century City and the Santa Monica Mountains.
In 2002, Gooch graduated from USC College magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in political science and English. Three years later, she graduated from Stanford Law School. She now practices corporate law at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.
When told her achievements are astonishing for a person of 25, Gooch modestly replied: “I guess.” When told she personified the definition of success, she corrected: “The definition of luck.”
Born and reared in Boulder, Colo., Gooch was on the intellectual fast track early on. At 17, she was accepted to the USC Resident Honors Program, and was college bound while in her high school senior year.
She always knew she wanted to practice law.
“I wanted to be in a job that was challenging and interesting,” she said. “I wanted to be surrounded by bright people and make a decent living.”
And she knew she didn’t want to be a litigator.
“I like drafting documents. I like the writing part of it,” Gooch said. “I like working in a more collaborative atmosphere, where people are trying to reach the same goal. As opposed to litigation, where you’re trying to beat someone else.”
She felt right at home in the College’s Thematic Option Program, USC’s general education honors program.
“Everyone around you is so driven and so interested in the material,” Gooch said. “The professors who teach these classes are just amazing, top flight professors.”
At USC, she met her now fiancé, Ryan Soelberg, currently a James A. Michener fellow studying writing at the University of Texas.
Between her visits with Soelberg and time at the law firm, where she recently was part of a team that closed a billion-dollar aerospace merger deal, she’s lucky if she can squeeze in a movie or dinner with a friend.
“Frankly,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of leisure time as of late.”
But that’s how she wants it. She’s happy where life has taken her.
“I love California,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to base my career here. I love L.A. and feel very comfortable here.”
Quest for Knowledge
Back in downtown L.A., Brandon L. Paradise sipped a cup of half-decaf, half-regular coffee inside the high-rise building were he works as an associate, and talked about his extraordinary life so far.
Paradise, 27, recently moved here from New York, where he practiced law at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. After passing the New York State bar examination, he’s awaiting his California bar exam results while practicing law at Sidley Austin LLP.
“L.A. is my home,” he said of returning to L.A., where in 2001 he received a bachelor’s in philosophy and economics from USC College, earning a 4.0 GPA in both majors. Three years later, he graduated from Yale Law School.
How Paradise arrived at one of the world’s largest law practices defending and prosecuting business litigation in the heart of L.A. has something to do with an electrical fire in his boyhood home and Plato.
Living with his mother in an apartment in Rancho Cucamonga, he was jolted awake one night by blistering heat.
“I awoke with flames on my mattress,” Paradise said. “It nearly killed me. Our apartment was uninhabitable.”
Paradise, who was 15, and his mother, a furniture saleswoman, moved to Chino, where he began taking advanced classes. Although his grade-school teachers had identified him as gifted, he had never fully focused on academics until that sophomore year in high school.
About that time, while watching the USC marching band perform before a game on television, he recalled getting swept up in the Trojan school spirit. He thought about how great it would be to attend USC.
“I remember thinking to myself that a school like that just may be out of reach for me,” he said. “Because of the money, and because, unfortunately, what my academic performance had been up to that point.”
But in his new school, away from his buddies, he hunkered down and quickly excelled. That’s when he decided to move in with a cousin in Fullerton, where he thought the superior school system would better position him to attend a major university.
So at age 16, he left his mother, moved in with his older cousin, and aced his senior high school year.
“I applied to a number of colleges and got into all of them,” Paradise said. He decided to fulfill his dream and attend USC.
He attributes his gumption to Plato.
“In seventh or eighth grade, I began reading Plato on my own,” Paradise recalled. “Plato’s idea in his Republic that acquiring knowledge results in good character and ultimately the ‘good life’ powerfully influenced me very early in life.”
First in Her Family
Juaneita M. Veron-Foster, who attended USC College during World War II, is another strong-willed person who beat the odds. When she was one, her mother died due to childbirth complications. She and her aunt, who raised her, moved from Fresno to southeast Los Angeles after her high school graduation.
Living near USC, she was determined to be the first in her family to graduate from college.
“I’d always wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was a little kid,” the 80-year-old retired municipal court judge said. “At the time, financing was a real problem and the chances of getting into college weren’t so great. But I did. And my adopted mother worked and I worked. I made 40 cents an hour working at Bullocks [department store].”
Veron-Foster graduated from USC College in 1943. At USC Law, she was one of five women in her graduating class of 300. She became a trial attorney in Orange and L.A. counties, and in 1970 was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court. She retired in 1993.
Now enjoying leisure time at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Veron-Foster shared her advice to College students considering a career in law.
“You have to want it really bad,” Veron-Foster said. “I don’t know how hard it is now, but it wasn’t easy then. Now they have computers. Then, we were lucky to have a ladies’ bathroom. Work awfully hard. Stick to it. Just keep fighting on.”
This is the first in a series of articles about the wide variety of careers pursued by the alumni of USC College.