Giovanni Hernandez hadn’t always been interested in law. He is what his mom calls “an artsy kid”, who is never the loudest person in the room.
A lot changed for Giovanni on a seemingly routine day in his P.S. 71 seventh grade classroom, when Giovanni’s Social Studies teacher selected him as one of the participants in a mock trial that was to be run out of the Bronx District Attorney’s office.
Annie Soriano, Giovanni’s mom, was a little nervous for her introverted son, knowing that this mock trial would mean he had to speak in front of a crowded room.
As the case went on his confidence grew, and by the end Giovanni was lead council for the defense team and presented closing arguments with ease.
“I was shocked, he totally came out of his shell,” said Soriano of her son’s performance.
From then on, Giovanni took a keen interest in law. He was on the mock trial team again in eighth grade, and this time lawyers helped to coach the students.
Down at the criminal court house on Grand Concourse, P.S.71 presented arguments against other Bronx schools.
“That was a turning point in my kid’s life,” said Soriano looking back at the experience.
Now in high school, Giovanni commutes each day from Pelham Bay to the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
One day, at the advisement of a friend, Giovanni read about the High School Law Institute at Columbia University – a program in which Columbia law students teach constitutional and criminal law classes to teenagers from all five boroughs.
The program is free, but consequently highly selective.
Giovanni applied by writing a passionate essay about the person he most admired – Bronx born and bred Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“She is a huge inspiration to me because we have so much in common, and under similar situations as mine, she rose to become the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history,” wrote Giovanni.
He was accepted in September 2015. Soriano wrote to Justice Sotomayor to thank her for inspiring her son – and much to her surprise received a prompt and warm response.
“Hearing about students like Giovanni makes the work I do worthwhile,” wrote Sotomayor.
She invited Giovanni and his mother to come to the Supreme Court to view oral arguments in front of the court and to enjoy a private tour of the chambers- just for the two of them.
Giovanni was in awe upon arrival, the experience cementing his decision to focus on a law career, and to maybe one day to become a judge.
Most teenagers long to sleep in on Saturday’s but 15-year old Giovanni is more than happy to wake up early, commute to Columbia, and study law.
His dedication is obvious in the excited way he talks about the program, and the profession he is so eager to join. He’s especially intrigued by criminal law.
“If you see an opportunity take it! Don’t just expect that you’ll get another one,” urges Giovanni, who hopes one day his passion will take him as far as it took his role model.