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Champion snowboarder is ready for law career as advocate

When Jesse Horn, J.D. '10, was a kid in Jackson, Wyo., he didn't think much about following his father into a career as a lawyer.

"When people would ask my dad what he did for a living, he would say, 'I defend the poor, the weak, the hungry and the downtrodden,'" Horn said. "And when I was growing up I thought, that's such a corny line."

But he always loved student government and being a representative or advocate for others. "It was just the fun thing to do," he said.

And he had a particularly compelling reason for recognizing the work of advocates before him. Born a bilateral amputee (without legs), Horn grew up understanding many of the obstacles that confront the disabled and appreciating the results of legislation and social changes that address them.

"I realized that it was because of advocates, and because of people that passed the Americans with Disabilities Act and people that enforced it, that really made sure that I could be where I am today, and that I have all these wonderful opportunities," he said. "That really is what drove me to law school. I wanted to be an advocate. I wanted to represent the voices of people who can't tell it on their own."

But if the ADA cleared some paths, Horn has forged many of his own. A snowboarder since age 5, he's won 17 gold medals in the U.S. Amateur Snowboard Association Championships and co-founded the association's Disabled Snowboard Division, which has grown to almost 50 members from six members in its first year. He also holds five titles and three national records in swimming. "My parents never said, 'you can't do this,'" he said.

At Cornell, Horn served as class representative and executive vice president of the Law Student Association in his first two years; this year he's the first student liaison to the Cornell Law Executive Board. He also worked on capital cases in South Carolina through the Cornell Death Penalty Clinic and spent a summer as a law clerk in the U.S. Attorney's Office Felony Major Crimes Division in Washington, D.C.

And in the winters, he even squeezed in some snowboarding at Greek Peak. Not quite the Grand Tetons, but "it's a fun little mountain," he said.

After graduation, Horn will work with a law firm in Denver; and somewhere down the road, he hopes to join a federal agency -- the U.S. Attorney's Office or the Department of Justice, possibly -- as a trial lawyer and advocate.

"I think you can do a lot of good [in government service], just to make sure society keeps advancing on like it has and that everybody has their voice heard," he said.

The last three years have flown by, he added.

"One of the incredible things with Cornell Law is, it's such a small school, you can be involved with whatever, because you have such amazing talent within the professors," he said. "You can approach anybody, and everybody can take time to talk to you -- and that extends from the faculty to the staff ... to the students themselves.

"Cornell Law has really exceeded every expectation, and I had high expectations coming in," he said. "I definitely couldn't have had anticipated it going as well and having as much fun as I've had."

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Joe Schwartz