The Prodigy Club? College of Law welcomes four of the youngest first-year law students in its history

by Patrick Riedling,

  • Prodigy Club
    College of Law Welcomes Four of the Youngest First-Year Law Students in Its History

This fall Willamette University College of Law will welcome Jenavieve Johnston and Diana Tsurkan, the youngest matriculants in the college’s history.

“The two 19-year-olds are uniquely qualified, highly motivated students who share a desire to make a difference in the world,” said J.R. Tarabocchia, director of admission and student activities at Willamette Law. Tarabocchia reviews approximately 600 applications each year for the coveted 115 spots at Willamette Law.

lt is rare the law admissions team sees such maturity and focus at 19, but this year the school actually has four entering students under the age of 21. The average age of a law student at Willamette is 26. “We were surprised by a bumper crop of younger, well-qualified applicants this year,” said Tarabocchia. “Each student is in a strong position to do very well in law school.”

Johnston’s ambition and independence propelled her toward finding a way to pay for her entire undergraduate degree by herself. She skipped high school to attend Portland Community College instead, moving on by age 17 to Portland State University (PSU) her junior year. This year at age 19, Johnston graduated from PSU with a Bachelor of Science in business management.

She worked part-time jobs, one as a civil servant with the federal government. “At 17, I swore my first oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States with the United States Geological Survey,” she says.

Tsurkan graduated in the spring with a psychology degree from PSU, just two years after entering. The 19-year-old Clackamas native took dual enrollment classes while in high school, racking up college credit for years. She completed her associate degree while attending high school.

In a recent Oregonian news article, Tsurkan says she is not a naturally smart person. “I'm not like a prodigy.”

"I always felt like I was one step behind—that's where hard work kicked in. I feel like I studied more than a normal person," she said.

Tsurkan, the daughter of Moldovan immigrants, is the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her father died four years ago, and she pushed herself through school thanks to a job at a retirement home and her family's support.

“I am a passionate and hardworking person who is determined to become an attorney to advocate for others with eagerness and compassion,” said Tsurkan. Johnston and Tsurkan will be joined by two other younger students: Rosemary Harper and Daniel Small, both 20 years old.

“Who knows?” said Tarabocchia. “Perhaps these students will start a new trend, and ‘The Prodigy Club’ will become a new student organization at Willamette Law.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to the advancement of knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship, mentoring and experience. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses, and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market. According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association, Willamette ranks first in the Pacific Northwest for job placement for full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the class of 2014 and first in Oregon for the classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Located across the street from the state capitol complex and the Oregon Supreme Court in downtown Salem, the college specializes in law and government, law and business, and dispute resolution.