Law student found dead

See a slideshow commemoration of Joey Hanzich’s life.

Joseph “Joey” Hanzich LAW ’10, a natural leader with a passion for public policy, was found dead in his Madison Towers apartment Thursday.

Joseph “Joey” Hanzich LAW ’10, right, stands with Harvard senior Eric Lesser. Hanzich was found dead in his apartment Thursday.
Joseph “Joey” Hanzich LAW ’10, right, stands with Harvard senior Eric Lesser. Hanzich was found dead in his apartment Thursday.

Law school administrators said Hanzich’s death appeared to be due to natural causes. A spokeswoman for the New Haven Police Department — which conducted a forensics evaluation of his room Thursday — said the medical examiner’s report would be released later this week.

According to friends, Hanzich played basketball Wednesday evening before retiring to his apartment complaining of stomach pains. After not being able to reach him on Thursday, friends found Hanzich dead in his room.

Although Hanzich — who attended Harvard as an undergraduate and earned his master’s degree last year on a scholarship at the University of Cambridge — spent less than a month in New Haven, he had time to make an impact on his fellow law students.

Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh made an announcement to all students and faculty Friday afternoon, where he referred to the passing as a “terrible loss” and asked the audience to “draw on our sense of community” for comfort.

“He’ll be sorely missed because he was poised to do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people,” said his brother, Eric “Ricky” Hanzich, a freshman at Harvard. “Anyone who knew him for any length of time could tell that he was probably going to be the next president of the United States.”

Ricky Hanzich said living in his brother’s “shadow” was a blessing.

“He was not only a brother; he was my mentor, my best friend, and I was his best friend,” he said. “I guess he had the ability that not many people do, to make others happy, to make them better people. He had a joy about him all the time. He was never negative, never sad. He always saw the goodness in people, no matter what.”

Friends from Hanzich’s Southern California hometown, Mission Viejo, as well as acquaintances from Harvard, Yale and Cambridge, all mentioned that sense of joy. Without fail, photos of Hanzich posted on the Internet show him sporting a full-teeth smile.

“Joey was the ideal son, the ideal friend and the ideal human,” said Maziyar Kalani, who met him in seventh grade. “I’m sure all of our parents at one time wished we were Joey Hanzich. … I think that’s also a reason why we’re all asking, ‘Why him?’ He was unlike any genius out there. He was brilliant, social, kind and humble and never forgot who he was.”

As far back as junior high school, Kalani remembered Hanzich giving powerful speeches — whether to memorialize the death of his Model United Nations teacher or to celebrate a band concert — and treating “all of his friends equally.” Kalanai said he registered to vote last month solely so that he could one day help vote his friend into national public office.

Hanzich graduated as a U.S. Presidential Scholar and valedictorian from Mission Viejo High School in Southern California, earning a spot on the 2002 All-USA High School Academic Team. As an undergraduate at Harvard, Hanzich received recognition as a John Harvard Scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of the Detur Book Prize.

Outside of the classroom, Hanzich was involved in many Democratic causes, serving as vice president of the Harvard College Democrats and volunteering for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Last year, Hanzich earned his master’s degree in public health — his passion — at the University of Cambridge. Hanzich also was an avid athlete, working out or playing basketball or tennis almost everyday.

In an e-mail Friday afternoon, Koh recounted Hanzich’s public service, from traveling to Santiago, Chile, to work for the Chilean National Health Care Fund to providing translation services to the Harvard Law School legal services clinic.

“Joey Hanzich did so much with his life; he would have done so much more,” Koh wrote. “He was a gifted and wonderful young man. How privileged we were to have him with us, even for such a short time.”

Law School professor Akhil Amar ‘80 LAW ’84, who led Hanzich’s Small Group — consisting of the first-year law students with whom he would have taken most of his classes — said the bright-eyed student sported a radiant smile that “lit up the room.”

“From the very first day, he had begun to shine,” said Amar, recounting “brilliant” theories on which Hanzich had already begun to work. “In my 20 years of teaching, there’s only been one other student who made such a favorable impression on me so early.”

In an e-mail, Lauren Pardee LAW ’10 said he made “quite an impression” in a “very short time.”

“We met during admit weekend, and his warm smile made me feel like we had become instant friends,” she said. “We signed our housing leases on the same day, and during that process he met my parents. They only talked to him for several minutes, but afterwards they told me how sweet and intelligent they found him to be and how glad they were that he and I would be attending the same school.”

Hanzich was also a prolific writer. In a 2005 article in the Harvard Political Review, Hanzich questioned whether “federalism on social issues has gone too far.” His piece argued that the teaching of evolution in classrooms, gay marriage, stem cell research and abortion were preventing any semblance of national unity.

And in a column for the Harvard Political Review, he expressed his vision for politically active college students.

“College Democrats can take leadership and shape the direction of where the party goes,” he told The Crimson in November 2004, shortly after Kerry’s loss. “We can play the role young Republicans played 20 years ago, who provided creative direction to turn the party around.”

It was a search for “common ground” that drove Hanzich, said Greg Schmidt, the president of the Harvard College Democrats when Hanzich was its vice president.

“We joked that although all of his roommates were Republicans, he was able to bring harmony and unity to his dorm room,” Schmidt said, before quickly adding, “There’s a tendency, when things like this happen, to exaggerate. Very little of what you hear about Joey is an exaggeration. He really is this great guy.”

Kalani, who said he is still in shock, put it simply.

“If you actually knew Joey Hanzich, you’d know you are in divine company,” he said. “I’m sure God feels the same way right now.”

Yale Law School spokeswoman Janet Conroy said details of a memorial service in New Haven are forthcoming. A memorial will be held in Mission Viejo, Calif. on Sunday to commemorate Hanzich’s life.

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