John Ghazoul ’21 Will Continue To Return to His Roots

Student Discusses Mideast Student Organization, Meeting With Ambassador
John Ghazoul

“The thought of law, and how the law impacts every aspect of our society and world, really excites me,” John Ghazoul said. Photo by Julia Davis

May 1, 2020

John Ghazoul ’21, a student at the University of Virginia School of Law, hopes one day to return to his parents’ native Syria with his J.D. to help rebuild the embattled nation’s economy. 

At UVA Law, Ghazoul is review editor for the Virginia Law & Business Review, a Peer Advisor, and former president of the Middle Eastern and North African Law Student Association.   

The Tempe, Arizona, native earned a bachelor’s in finance from Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, where he served as director of student development with the student government. 

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Ghazoul discussed how MENA helps connect classmates and how meeting a former ambassador was a seminal moment in his academic career. 

Tell us something about your life before law school. 

I am a first-generation American; both of my parents were born in Syria. I was actually born in Cleveland, Ohio, but my family moved to Arizona when I was 4 (unfortunately, that was enough time for me to become a devout Cleveland sports fan). I have one sibling, my little sister, Marilyn, who will be graduating from high school this year. 

We used to go to Syria every summer. Those summers were some of the most memorable times of my life. We would typically fly into Damascus, Syria’s capital, and stay for a week or two. We would then drive to my grandparents’ hometown, Mashta al-Helu, which is about three hours away via car from Damascus. Most of my family on my mother’s side, and some on my father’s, still live in that country and we still have homes there. 

I have not returned to Syria in eight years, however. Unfortunately, because of the conflict there, male Syrian citizens in my age group are sought after for military service, which is required of anyone who is not an only son or not in school. Although I am both an only son and studying, because the Syrian consulate closed down in the United States, it has been impossible to get the paperwork done to confirm that I am an only son. As a result, I should avoid going to Syria until my paperwork has been completed. My mother, father and sister all went to visit Syria last year, however, and had a great time with our family there. 

Why law school? 

Growing up, I was constantly around family members who were lawyers, and I was fascinated by their work. These individuals would often tell me that the subjects and activities that I excelled at in high school and undergrad lined up well with the study of law.  

I have always been interested in business, and I eventually came to realize that my family members were right. I came to understand that the law is the perfect intersection of my skills and interests; being a transactional lawyer would allow me to have my foot in the business world while also providing legal advice to companies, which is something I knew I would enjoy. 

I also have a long-term goal of utilizing my dual citizenship (U.S. and Syrian) to try to help rebuild the Syrian economy. I felt that building upon my business knowledge with a law degree would allow me to better help the Syrian people. The thought of law, and how the law impacts every aspect of our society and world, really excites me. 

Tell us more about MENA. 

One of the great things about the UVA Law community is that, if you have an interest, odds are there is an organization that is dedicated to it. If there is not such a group, the administration will work directly with you to establish it.   

MENA was founded during the fall semester of 2018 by Rachael Joseph and Kareem Ramadan, two graduating 3Ls whom I am lucky enough to call great friends. After realizing that students of Middle Eastern and North African descent did not have a forum to discuss local, national and international issues affecting both the Middle Eastern and North African law student community, MENA was created to represent the views of Middle Eastern and North African students at the Law School and to provide such a forum. I was fortunate enough to be selected as MENA’s second president, and our organization just selected its third executive board. MENA’s foundation and continued success are a great testament to our administration’s desire to make UVA Law a welcoming environment for all.   

Describe your most interesting law school experience. 

As a first-semester 2L, I was fortunate enough to take Constitutionalism and Culture with Professor A. E. Dick Howard. Professor Howard is a world-renowned constitutional law scholar, and one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Throughout the semester, Professor Howard would invite his acquaintances and friends from abroad and across the nation as guest lecturers. One of our guests was Robert Pearson, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. After his lecture, Ambassador Pearson and I discussed Middle Eastern current events. I also expressed my interest in learning more about the U.S. Foreign Service, [the diplomatic corps] that Ambassador Pearson had mentioned during his lecture. Ambassador Pearson was more than helpful in educating me on the Foreign Service, and we continued our after-class discussion on the subject via email. I realized after that class just how significant a UVA Law education is. I know that there are few other institutions throughout the world in which I would have the opportunity to be exposed to the faculty and network that UVA Law provides to its students.  

What’s next for you? 

I will be working this summer for Jones Day’s New York office. I intend to eventually practice transactional law, and I am excited to work with different groups this summer and discover what interests me the most. 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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