Emory Report

May 18, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 32

Vahn Chang now takes
refuge in the law

It's not unusual that Vahn Chang's parents, brothers, cousins and aunts came to her commencement. But they, more than most, knew the long, hard road all of them had traveled before she received her law degree.

Born in Laos, Chang and her family escaped to a Thailand refugee camp after the Communist takeover. They lived in the camp for four years; Chang was 3 when they arrived, 7 when they were able to come to America due to an aunt's intervention. "It was like living in two different worlds," Chang recalled in a 1996 Atlanta Journal/Constitution article. "We were able to go out and look at the city. But before night, we had to come back to our bamboo houses. It was a drastic difference. Sometimes I wished I could stay on the outside in a real house."

While in Thailand, Chang often encountered American researchers studying conditions at the refugee camp. Her stateside education began as a second grader at Decatur's Winnona Park Elementary school, and she later graduated from Tucker High School as class valedictorian.

As an Emory undergraduate, Chang found herself pursuing an pyschology degree. Her stellar academic career earned her a Woodruff Scholarship to the law school, where she concentrated in real estate law.

Real estate law seems an ill fit for a former dedicated volunteer for Amnesty International and the Georgia Childcare Council. Not really, said Chang. She cites law school Professor Frank Alexander, well known for his social activism, as an influence. Alexander took Chang's seminar class to the East Lake Meadows housing project, where they learned about revitalizing neighborhoods and the difficulty displaced tenants have in finding affordable housing. "When I see his energy, how committed he is to low-income housing and the poor, it showed me I can have a legal career and do community service as well," Chang said. "He's truly a mentor."

Chang, who starts her career at the Atlanta legal real estate firm Hyatt & Stubblefield in August, will be taking the bar exam in July. She's looking forward to the down time between now and then, but it won't last long. "I'm looking forward to doing lots of pro bono work," she said. "Lots of the things Professor Alexander is doing."

-Stacey Jones

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