John Hroncich was the kind of person who would run after a car and write down its license plate number because it drove away after hitting a friend’s car. He could sit down at a restaurant, strike up a conversation with strangers and exchange Facebook information after 15 minutes.
Friends said he seemed to bounce along hallways and would stay in touch with classmates long after completing courses with them. Hroncich chose to attend GW Law School not because it offered him the largest amount of scholarship money, but because he thought the school would challenge him the most out of all his options.
Dozens of family members, friends, faculty and administrators gathered at the law school Friday to share memories of Hroncich. The third-year student died Dec. 20.
Law school interim dean and professor Gregory Maggs called him “a star” – someone who chose law school to become “an agent of positive change.” Hroncich would have received his law degree in May, and Maggs said the school plans to recommend to the University that he receive the honor posthumously.
Hroncich died at his family home in Hazlet, N.J., and his family has not yet released the cause of death. His brother Patrick Hroncich, a New York University student, said in December that he found him dead in his sleep.
An autopsy report from the New Jersey Medical Examiner’s Office is pending a Freedom of Information Act request.
“He may never have never gotten the chance to practice law, get married or grow old, but he really lived the life he had, and what little time he did have, he used to its fullest,” Patrick Hroncich said at the service.
His friends called him “Jersey Johnny,” and would joke that he had more Amtrak points than Vice President Joe Biden because of how often he visited home. They said he loved house music, hair gel, tanning and MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore.”
“He was always looking out for me,” his sister, Theresa Hroncich, said. “He really cared. Even if he didn’t always want to show it, he would. It was always there.”
Former law school professor Michael Panzera said he still remembers his first class with the late student. Panzera, also a New Jersey native, recognized and pointed out Hroncich’s Jersey accent during a discussion.
Panzera said Hroncich struggled during his first year to improve his writing skills, and some members of the law school community doubted his chances for success. But he proved them wrong when he aced an oral argument.
“I saw great things for him, and it made me proud to know him and be a part of his life and see the effect that he had on everybody in our class,” Panzera said. “He definitely blossomed over the year, and watching that process was such an amazing thing.”
Hroncich earned his undergraduate degree in economics and political science at Rutgers University, where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He finished off his last three semesters at Rutgers with a 3.93 grade point average.
D.C. councilmember and law school professor Mary Cheh also attended the service. Hroncich took one of her constitutional law courses, but Cheh said she never got to know him personally because of the class’ large size.
“In my experience, there is nothing that can compare to this sadness – to lose a member of our community in this way,” Provost Steven Lerman said at the service. “We’ll never know what he would have accomplished and the things he would have given back to society.”
Hroncich was interested in cybersecurity law and dedicated to public service. Last summer, he worked as a legal intern in New Jersey’s Division of Investigations to help root out public fraud.
In one moment, Hroncich could talk about a party or a concert he attended the night before, and in the next, he could hash out and analyze the latest news event, his friend Collin Smith said at the service.
Smith, a law student who enrolled after serving a military tour in Iraq, said he struggled to adjust to the rigorous academic environment during his first year – until he got to know Hroncich.
“He showed me that law school could be fun – that at the same time, you could be a good student, like he was, and have a great time and not have to take everything so seriously in life and not have to let good moments pass you up,” Smith said. “He was really a genuine person, a good-hearted person – somebody that helped me find a little bit of balance.”