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The Conversation Project: Willamette alum to share experience as immigrant in Oregon

by Shelly Strom ,

A flight that landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the fall of 1976 brought orphaned infants from South Korea to adoptive families from around the United states. One baby girl, Shin Kyong Ok, would eventually wind up in Oregon. 

Liani Reeves
Liani Reeves ’98, JD ’01

She found herself there in 1988 when her family left the East Coast for idyllic scenery and small town life in coastal Oregon. For the adopted daughter, however, the experience was anything but idyllic. Instead, it ushered in life-altering racial trauma for a young adolescent searching for community. 

Today, this immigrant from Korea is named Liani Reeves ’98, JD ’01 and she is sharing her experience to promote understanding among Americans. On Oct. 11, Reeves will tell her story during "The Immigrant Story" at Rogers Music Center. 

Reeves said after enduring years of bullying throughout her teens, her life took a turn for the better when she headed to college at Willamette University. “Attending Willamette University gave me a chance to get out of that town. Before that, I never felt like I had a community of my own,” Reeves said. 

“I was able to start on my path to becoming a lawyer and finally found a community that accepted me. What I gained from Willamette has stayed with me through my career,” she said. 

Reeves is an attorney in high profile roles in Oregon. President of Portland-based Bullard Law, she served as Oregon Department of Justice deputy chief trial counsel and assistant attorney general, as well as general counsel for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. In 2020, she was president for Oregon State Bar, making her the first Asian American and first woman of color in that role. 

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