The Hon. Denny Chin ’71 is a United States Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was nominated by President Barack Obama and sworn in on April 26, 2010.
From September 13, 1994, through April 23, 2010, Denny served as a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. He was nominated to the federal court by President Bill Clinton. Through his career he presided over both civil and criminal cases including the trial of an Afghan warlord charged with conspiring to import heroin and the guilty plea and sentencing of financier Bernard L. Madoff.
Denny graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1971, from Princeton University magna cum laude in 1975, and Fordham Law School in 1978. He was born in Hong Kong and was the first Asian American appointed a United States District Judge outside the Ninth Circuit.
Two of his brothers and his son Paul also graduated from Stuyvesant High School.
On June 26, 2019, Judge Chin gave the commencement address to the graduating class of 2019 at Carnegie Hall. A portion of his speech is excerpted below.
My grandfather was born in China in 1896. He came to the United States in 1916, illegally, because that was the only way he could enter the country, because of the Chinese exclusion laws. He returned to China only twice: once in the 1920s, when he got married, and once in the 1930s, when my father was born. Both times he left his family behind in China to return to the U.S. He could not bring his wife or son to this country because of the immigration laws, but he could better support them here in America, working as a waiter in Chinese restaurants. He shared a railroad apartment in Chinatown in New York, with other Chinese men, and every month, like them, he would buy a money order at the post office and send it home to his family in China. In 1947, my grandfather became an American citizen. … By becoming a citizen, my grandfather was able to bring his family, including me, to this country, in 1956, after the immigration laws were reformed. By then, my father was a young man in Hong Kong, with a family of his own. My parents’ original Chinese passports show that we entered as political refugees. After we arrived in New York, my parents worked hard to raise five kids. My mother was a seamstress in garment factories in Chinatown. My father was a cook in Chinese restaurants. In 1965, my parents were naturalized, and thus I became a citizen as well. My parents spoke no English, but they knew the importance of education and hard work, and so we did okay.
When my grandfather was still alive, I did not think of him as a “hero”– after all, I thought, he was just a Chinese waiter. It was only later that I came to appreciate all that he did, and it was only later that I came to understand how much a hero he really was, as he traveled to a strange country at the age of 20, with no money, speaking no English, and worked so hard, day in and day out, to make a better life for his family.