Paul Hanson, a UC Berkeley senior and student-veteran, died last week at the age of 26.
Friends and family remember Hanson for his strong work ethic and unwavering kindness. He served in the Marine Corps for almost five years before transferring to UC Berkeley from community college in 2013.
“I was just proud to have him be my brother and my friend,” said his brother James Hanson. “Me and my brother — we look up to Paul even though he’s the younger brother, because he’s so gifted.”
Hanson majored in political economy on campus after transferring from De Anza College. He had his sights set on obtaining a law degree — earlier this year, he was accepted to the UC Berkeley School of Law and University of Virginia’s law school. Prior to his death, he was in the midst of completing interviews for a number of other prestigious institutions. He eventually hoped to work for the U.S. Department of State.
Joseph Bohling, a Portland State University assistant professor who wrote recommendations for Hanson’s law school applications, said Hanson was the type of student every instructor hoped to have in their classes, remarking that he was constantly curious and went far beyond the course material.
“He pursued his studies with an endless enthusiasm, optimism, and generosity,” Bohling wrote in an email. “Paul dreamed big.”
UC Berkeley sophomore Michelaina Johnson, a friend of Hanson’s and former Daily Californian staff writer, remembered how dedicated he was to his passions, manifested in the long hours he devoted to studying and working for the American Red Cross, JusticeCorps and an international studies honor society.
Originally from Florida, Hanson joined the Marine Corps for four and half years shortly after he turned 18. He served in Afghanistan for a nine-month tour of duty before he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, winning the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his service.
“Underneath all that muscle and all those protein shakes, he was really sweet,” said UC Berkeley senior Stacie Vu, who laughingly recalled he was still a “sucker for anything Nutella-related.”
Vu, one of the first friends Hanson made at UC Berkeley, remembered that when she got her wisdom teeth removed, he checked in with her every day.
Vu said Hanson didn’t usually speak much about his time in the military, but when she helped him prepare for a law school interview and asked him mock questions, he related personal stories about his service.
“He’d be spewing out tons and tons of stories that I couldn’t even imagine a guy in his mid-20s could already have,” Vu said. “It seemed like a lifetime of memories.”
His brother said Hanson’s death came as a shock to friends and family, because he was physically and academically successful. Still, he acknowledged that his service in the Marine Corps may have impacted Hanson mentally. He noted that his brother struggled with insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He tried for years to combat (insomnia),” Vu said. “He didn’t just give up. … It shows a lot about his strength.”
Hanson is survived by his parents, Mark and Cindy, and his siblings, Chris and James.
Many 24-hour hotlines exist for those in the midst of a crisis. Alameda County’s can be reached at 800-309-2131.