Ken Okazaki doesn’t have a story to tell of feeling left out or different as one of the few non-white students who attended the College of Law in 1979. “No, I’ve never felt unwelcome. I never thought I was a person of color. I just always thought I was who I was,” said Okazaki, whose parents moved to Utah from Hawaii to attend graduate school and decided to stay to raise their family.
Instead, Okazaki invokes the U’s rival to explain why he wanted to donate to the Admissions and Inclusion Suite at the College of Law. The room opened in 2016 as a place to help people of color connect with resources and a community to assist them in excelling during law school. Okazaki donated personally and his law firm, Jones Waldo, matched his contribution. Other individual donors include Gilbert Martinez, Sam Alba, Jane and Tami Marquardt, Robert Marquardt, and Cecilia and Ross Romero.
“It’s almost like that BYU [Brigham Young University] motto, the world is our campus,” Okazaki said. The suite is a “gateway to the law school. We should welcome everybody.”
Okazaki said it’s important that a diversity of perspectives are represented at the school, which is the pitch that moved him to donate. “In order to be a good lawyer, you’ve got understand people and understand the judges and the clients and the other side,” he said, adding that it would be “myopic” if “you can only see white middle class, upper class perspectives on things.”
When Okazaki was planning his career, there was no question he would continue his education beyond a bachelor’s degree. His parents were passionate about education and well known for their contributions to Utah. His mother, Chieko Okazaki, was a teacher in Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado and earned a master’s degree in educational administration. She became the first non-Caucasian woman to serve on a general board of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1961. She was a member of the General Relief Society Presidency and an author. His father, Edward Yukio Okazaki, also served in the LDS church as a mission president and regional representative, was a decorated World War II veteran who received the Silver Star and Purple Heart, had a successful career in social work, and is thought to have created the nation’s first Council on Aging for Utah with former Gov. Cal Rampton. “They both believed education was the most important thing to get in preparation for the rest of your life,”
Okazaki said. He also contributes to the U’s College of Social Work in his parents’ names. Okazaki said he took a variety of graduate school exams and received a few scholarships but ultimately chose the U for law school. He graduated in 1982. “I’m not the smartest guy who came out of there, but I’m one of the luckiest guys,” he said.
While Okazaki didn’t want to name his clients, his practice today revolves around ligation. He feels most gratified in negotiations related to resolutions of disputes and mergers and acquisitions. He likens taking on new clients to dating. “It’s a real relationship business. You have a list of what you’re look-ing for in your spouse, it’s kind of what you look for in a lawyer. I’ve told many people, ‘This is like dating. We’re going on a date. If you don’t like me and I don’t like you, we shouldn’t go steady,’” he said.
For the clients he commits to, Okazaki said the rewards extend beyond winning cases. “I’ve represented some really good people. We’ve become really good friends.’”
AT A GLANCE: THE ADMISSIONS AND INCLUSION SUITE
Several donors were integral to the creation of the College of Law’s Admissions and Inclusion Suite, designed to be a welcoming gateway to law school for the minority student community.
The suite was dedicated in 2016. Its mission is to help law students better connect with resources and a community to assist them in excelling through law school, a path that for many first generation and minority students is travelled alone.
Donations from Gilbert Martinez, Sam Alba, Jane and Tami Marquardt, Robert Marquardt, Ken Okazaki and Cecilia M. and Ross I. Romero were vital to launching the idea. The law firm Jones Waldo also contributed significantly.