By Marcia Moxam Comrie
Special to the Eagle
Queens Assistant District Attorney Joseph Grasso recently returned to the scene of his undergraduate education as pre-law student at Jamaica’s York College, to offer tips for students considering law school and legal careers.
Grasso was not the only alum speaking with students that day. There were others in that department and in other majors across the college. But he is part of a proud family tradition at the college.
Grasso, a member of the York College Class of 2011, received his legal education at SUNY’s Buffalo University School of Law, but he has not forgotten his undergraduate days at York. Grasso, who was considered a “legacy student” because he also had a parent graduate from the college, was an active student. He said he took full advantage of the many opportunities at his disposal.
He wrote for the student newspaper, “Pandora’s Box,” just as his father before him had done. He also became active in theatre arts, starring in several plays at York and, later, in law school.
When asked what made him want to make time to visit with students at his alma mater, Grasso was gracious in his response.
“It was a no-brainer,” Grasso said. “It wasn’t hard to take some time to come back to York. In fact, my bosses at the Queens DA’s [office] were just as enthusiastic about me returning to York as I was. One of the tenets of this office is community involvement. York College gave me so much as a student that I feel indebted to give back whenever I can.”
Grasso said he hopes that sharing his experience with the students enabled them to get some ideas about how to use their political science degree to pursue a legal career.
“And if nothing else, they now know that I am a person they could reach out to if they want advice on applying to law school,” he said.
Grasso told students there were “two main points” that were important to make.
“One: take a theater class,” he said. “If you want to be involved in politics, or practice law, theater can really enhance your confidence and communications skills.
“[Second], lift the veil and figure out what opportunities CUNY can provide you as a student,” he continued.
Grasso said that during his time at York, he traveled to the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. for oral arguments, interned for a judge and the criminal defense firm Queens Law Associates, traveled to Washington D.C. again for a journalism seminar, interned for a Queens County Assemblymember in Albany and studied in China for a month.
“All of these opportunities were seized through my work with my political science advisor,” he said. “As a student you just need to do your due diligence.”
The students had numerous questions for their guest including his study tips for doing well on the LSAT Exam to get into law school and what the application process to the DA’s office entailed.
“I made sure that they knew I was in their shoes not so long ago and that I was there for any of them if they wanted to reach out for guidance or advice in making their decision,” Grasso said after the presentation. “I hope it resonated and that they do reach out.”
The young ADA also recalled how York prepared him for education beyond York.
“York’s political science curriculum was very demanding,” he said. “Writing 20-plus page papers for Dr. Michael Sharpe’s Comparative Politics class and reading books like Machiavelli’s The Prince and Plato’s Republic, set me up well for success in law school. I was also mentally strong thanks to Dr. Sharpe’s tough grading.”
Grasso informed students that, in addition, to the academic rigor, practical experience also played a role in his pre-law education.
“Interning with the Assembly in Albany, watching oral arguments at the Supreme Court, where we got to do a Q-and-A with Justice Scalia, interning with Queens Law Associates, and a Civil Supreme Judge, studying abroad in China … these are all experiences that I gained from York that made me a competitive candidate for more internships and more jobs in law school and after,” he said.
As for the future, Grasso says he did not have to look far for inspiration.
“My career goals are pretty simple,” he said. “They lay in a philosophy instilled in me by a fellow-York College alumnus: my father, Judge George Grasso, about 20 years ago. It was instilled in me as a kid when he took me up the block to paint over graffiti on a mailbox. If I can contribute to my community and make life better for those around me, I will be a very happy man. That said, I hope to continue to use my law degree to affect change for the better in my community.”
The standing-room only event also featured Ernesto Malave from the CUNY-ETR internship program in Government and Public Affairs, who spoke about opportunities for internships and fellowships through CUNY.
Over its 51-year history, York College has graduated hundreds of pre-law students, who have gone on to law schools across the United States and enjoy successful careers. In New York City alone there are two judges — Bronx Criminal Court Supervising Judge George Grasso and Queens Supreme Court, Civil Term Administrative Justice Jeremy Weinstein. Outside of New York, Danielle Blount, Class of 1997, is Commissioner of Family Court in Delaware.
Dr. Robin Harper, one of Joseph Grasso’s former York mentors, said she was pleased to see Grasso back on campus.
“We are delighted to hear about what our students do once they leave here,” Harper said. “It is, for the faculty, always wonderful to hear that former students have found exciting things to do and that they are happy.”
“When alumni return they spark current students to dream big,” Harper continued. “The students know that the alumni were just like them. The students can then see that anything is possible. Because there are so many career paths from a political science degree, it helps the students to imagine options they never knew existed.”