Intro Image - A Scholarship Helped Him; Now He’s Paying It Forward

A Scholarship Helped Him; Now He’s Paying It Forward

July 21, 2023
Kiyo Kojima

More than 20 years after graduating from the University of Rochester, Kiyo Kojima has paid it forward with a donation to a Community Foundation scholarship fund that helped him pay for law school.

“There was a long line of qualified people, and I didn’t think I’d get it. But fate smiled upon me that day and I got the scholarship. And you know, I’ve been forever grateful for that,” said Kojima, who was a 2000 recipient of the John H. Berman Memorial Scholarship.

His educational journey took a lot of twists and turns. A native of Japan who grew up in the suburbs of Georgia, he attended UR where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. At the same time, he also got a bachelor’s degree in music from the Eastman School of Music.

Kojima toured with various musical groups and “everywhere I went I had to deal with lawyers. I realized, wait, I could probably do this.” So he looked into applying to law school and came across the Foundation’s Berman scholarship, established in 1986 by the law firm of Woods, Oviatt, Gilman, Sturman & Clarke in memory of one of its attorneys. The scholarship, which assists graduating seniors from UR who plan to attend law school, has provided nearly $142,000 to support 91 students. Berman, whose legal career spanned 55 years, was a UR alum.

With that $2,500 scholarship, Kojima attended Indiana University Mauer School of Law and graduated in 2003. While there he also received his Performer’s Diploma from the Jacobs School of Music.

“Music has always been sort of the undercurrent of my life.” A partner with the Atlanta law firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP, Kojima manages to carve out time to practice his music three to four times each week, and moonlights as a bassoonist and occasionally as a saxophonist at venues around Atlanta and with several different ensembles.

Earlier this year, Kojima made a $1,000 donation to the Berman scholarship fund. “I have always been grateful that they were so kind to me back in the day, and to the extent that I can do my part, to continue that tradition that was started by Mr. Berman.”

Interestingly, the name Berman has been a connection throughout Kojima’s life. As a self-proclaimed Star Trek fan, he is a big fan of Rick Berman, who carried on the film’s legacy as executive producer of several Star Trek television series. Then he received the Berman scholarship to attend law school, and in his career as a lawyer, Jeff Berman of the law firm Berman, Fink, Van Horn, P.C. in Atlanta has been one of Kojima’s main mentors.

Kojima likens his work to playing an instrument. “As a lawyer, I read and clarify undecipherable writing to make sense of it and then translate it into real life, which is kind of like music.”

He also has a favorite piece of music — the last song of the operetta Candide, composed by Leonard Bernstein. It is called “Make Our Garden Grow” and, for Kojima, this lyric could be the theme song for his life: “We’re neither pure nor wise nor good. We’ll do the best we know.”

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