Distinguished alumni Lorna Schofield credits time at IU for helping to spark successful career

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The journey from the small town of New Haven, Ind., to the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but the Hon. Lorna G. Schofield was almost matter-of-fact when describing her career path.

“I want students to understand that there’s truly nothing extraordinary about my beginnings, and that things that are wonderful happen and can happen to all of us,” she explained. “But it’s not because I’m so special and so wonderful. You need certain qualifications, but you can’t ever count on or apply to be a federal judge. The stars have to align and you need to get very lucky, and I was very lucky.”

Prior to being one of four recipients of IU’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award, the university’s highest honor for alumni, Schofield, the nation’s first Filipino-American federal judge, began homecoming weekend by receiving the 2016 Distinguished Asian Pacific American Alumni Award. At an intimate gathering over brunch Friday at the in the Indiana Memorial Union’s ornate Federal Room, the affable Schofield recounted the route to presiding over a New York City courtroom that’s considered one of the most influential of its kind in the country.

I think about how important it is for Asian women to have role models to look up to. Not only is she the first federal judge of Filipino descent, but I think it’s pretty remarkable that when President Obama nominated her to the bench, it was uncontested. 

Thao Nelson, president of IU’s Asian Alumni Association

Schofield also attended a brunch at IU’s Asian Culture Center, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA) on Saturday, where she met with students and several members of the Indiana affiliate of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). The brunch was organized by IU alumni Judge G. Michael Witte and the Asian Pacific American Law School Association (APALSA) from both the IU Maurer School of Law and the IU McKinney School of Law.

“We are so grateful that Judge Schofield could take time out of her busy schedule to visit the ACC and connect with students at her alma mater,” said Melanie Castillo-Cullather, Asian Culture Center director. “Her story is truly inspirational and the fact that she’s an IU alumna of Asian Pacific heritage showed the students in attendance the possibilities that lie ahead of them in the future.”

Raised by her Filipina mother to be a well-rounded, diligent student, Schofield received a full scholarship to IU Bloomington, where she majored in English and German.

“I had a great experience. I did not feel any discrimination at all because of being either Asian or a woman. It was a wonderful environment,” recalled Schofield. “It was intellectually stimulating. I was in the honors program and it was an opening of an intellectual world that I’ve enjoyed ever since then. It was a great time.”

“So, because of her background, we went back to Judge Witte and said, ‘We want to take this to the very top’ [the IU Distinguished Alumni Award]. We learned there have been many people who have been nominated, have applied and re-applied, and are still waiting,” Nelson continued. “For Judge Schofield, it took one time and she was bestowed the highest honor any alumni can receive at Indiana University. I think that’s another first for her.”

While Schofield downplayed the significance of the accomplishments over the course of her career, she made it clear exactly how important of a role her alma mater played in her development.

“Sometimes I feel like ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ when she goes down the rabbit hole,” she said. “IU really marked that dividing point between my sheltered home life before that and sort of being out in the world after that, and sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I’m the same person. But I go back and look at pictures, and I know I am.”