Warrior Spirit: Jeanette Marie Acosta ’16 leaves a legacy of positive change

Jeanette M. Acosta Memorial Scholarship campaign launched by UC Hastings La Raza to inspire future generations of law students.

Updated October 11 to include links and video from the Jeanette M. Acosta Memorial Scholarship Event.

Photo of Jeanette M. Acosta

Jeanette Acosta ’16 demonstrated her fighting spirit in both her professional and personal life. Detailing her chemotherapy routine in a story she wrote for the health website mindbodygreen, she likened each session to a round in a boxing match. “We are stronger than we think,” Jeanette concluded. “If you are in a battle to defeat cancer and chemotherapy is a treatment that you will undergo, you can and will handle it like the warrior you are.”

The Pasadena native’s tenacity—and her dedication to social justice—was evident during her years at the University of Southern California, where she graduated cum laude in 2008. She also founded a learning center for Mexican immigrant children in Hollister, California, and, as a Fulbright scholar, focused on improving education policy in Mexico.

While earning her master’s in public policy from Harvard University, Jeanette continued her advocacy work for undocumented immigrants—co-founding the Ivy League Immigrant Rights Committee and serving as a graduate consultant with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education. After graduating in 2012, she did stints with President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and then the United Farm Workers Foundation, before pursuing her law degree at UC Hastings as a Tony Patiño fellow.

Jeanette earned further accolades at UC Hastings, receiving the Student Leader of the Year award in 2015; additionally, she worked as a legal extern for the Office of the Attorney General under Kamala Harris ’89 and with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Jeanette was also active in student organizations, serving as the co-chair of La Raza Law Students Association and a Ms. JD fellow. After graduation, she worked as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

A student speaker at the 2016 commencement, Jeanette challenged her fellow graduates to consider their impact on the world.

“What change will you bring?” she asked.

Acosta passed away on December 18, 2017 after a valiant year-long battle with cervical cancer. Inspired by her spirit, Chancellor & Dean David Faigman has led the charge to create the Jeanette M. Acosta Memorial Scholarship to support and encourage future students.

At the eighth annual UC Hastings La Raza Law Students Association Alumni Dinner—which marked the launch of the scholarship—Jeanette’s father, Dr. Frank Acosta, said, “Jeanette was blessed with a special unconditional love, kindness, and compassion for her family, friends, and others. She cared deeply about helping the disadvantaged and those who faced discrimination or injustices.”

UC Hastings honored Acosta’s life with a memorial event on Oct. 4, 2018, including remarks from Dr. Frank Acosta, Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Professor Catalina Lozano ’81, 2014-15 La Raza Co-Chair Nancy Arevalo ’16, and Stephen Van Liere ’91, a board member with the Tony Patiño Fellowship. A video of the event can be accessed here: Jeanette M. Acosta Memorial Scholarship Event.

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