Hanzich ’06 Leaves a Legacy of Leadership

Yale law student, recent Harvard grad found dead in New Haven


His friends knew Joseph M. Hanzich ’06 as POTUS—President of the United States. “He had the whole world ahead of him,” said a freshman-year roommate, James C. Lee ’08. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

The vibrant and accomplished first-year at Yale Law School was found dead in his New Haven, Conn., apartment on Thursday. He was 23.

Yale and New Haven police officials have said Hanzich died of natural causes, but have not released details on the circumstances surrounding his death. Yale Law School Dean Harold H. Koh ’75 told students and faculty on Friday that there are “many more questions than we have answers” about the case, the Yale Daily News reported.

Hanzich, a native of Orange County, Calif., earned a slew of academic honors at Harvard while studying government, and served as a leader of several campus groups. He graduated as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and attended the University of Cambridge on a prestigious scholarship to earn a master’s degree in public health. He was a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship.

“Joey was a person that made others around him better people,” said Eric M. Hanzich ’11, Hanzich’s younger brother. “He was that person that people wanted to be around who exuded joy throughout his life. There was never an unhappy moment with him.”

Hanzich made his mark on Harvard with his participation in a number of student organizations. He was vice president of the College Democrats, the secretary of intramural sports for Leverett House, and the director of Harvard’s Relay for Life cancer fundraiser.

Hanzich joined the American Cancer Society after a friend was diagnosed with cancer, Koh wrote in a letter to the law school community. Hanzich also volunteered in nursing homes and provided Spanish translation services to the poor in a Harvard Law School legal services clinic, Koh wrote.

“Joey Hanzich did so much with his life; he would have done so much more,” Koh said in the letter. “He was a gifted and wonderful young man. How privileged we were to have him with us, even for such a short time.”

Leverett House Master Howard Georgi ’68 said Saturday night that it was Hanzich’s “love of his community and its people”—not his impressive academic honors—that “radiated through his smile.”

“His enthusiasm for everything he did infected many of us in the House and his smile is something that we will never forget,” Georgi wrote in an e-mail to Leverett House.

Kirstin Woody, a fellow competitor for the Rhodes, first met Hanzich when both were in San Francisco for final interviews. Woody and Hanzich studied in England the next year and grew to be close friends.

“He’s one of those individuals that when anybody meets him, they just know that it’s something incredibly special,” she said.

Hanzich was very athletic and loved sports, especially tennis, Woody said. The two traveled to Wimbledon and the U.S. Open together this year.

Hanzich told Woody last weekend that he was excited to be at Yale and was eager to use his education to change the world.

“He said ‘You know, one thing I just appreciate so much is that they’re teaching us not how the world is, but how it can be,’” she said. “That’s everything he stood for—what we can do to challenge the status quo.”

Hanzich’s roommate throughout his time at Harvard, John W. Scott ’06, wrote in an e-mail that his roommate encouraged Scott, “a boy from a small town in South Carolina,” to “dream on a global scale,” in hopes of changing the world for the better.

Scott wrote that Hanzich was such a source of inspiration to all those around him that “as long as we live on, his influence will live within us.”

To many, Hanzich seemed to be a perfect candidate to be president of the United States one day, Eric Hanzich said.

“[Joey] decided to pursue a life of public service because he truly believed that he could effect the most positive change for the largest amount of people,” he said. “He wanted to learn how to change America for the better for mankind. He loved this nation more than anyone I’ve known.”

Memorial services will be held at Yale Law School on September 30, according to Koh. Official services have not yet been scheduled for Harvard, said Ann Georgi, co-master of Leverett House. Brigit M. Helgen ’08, president of the Harvard College Democrats, wrote in an e-mail to the Institute of Politics community that the Dems would likely be planning a service later this week.

In a speech at the Interfaculty Initiative in Health Policy’s Certificate’s awards ceremony in June 2006, Hanzich, in his last days as an undergraduate, called on his peers to translate lessons learned at Harvard into changes worldwide.

“Now is our time to make a difference,” Hanzich said.

—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached

CORRECTION: The Sept. 17 news article "Hanzich '06 Leaves a Legacy of Leadership" incorrectly stated that James C. Lee is a member of the class of 2008. In fact, Lee graduated in 2006.

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