A new first-year student law picks out her name tag near the registration table during the Faculty’s Welcome Day.
There was a palpable buzz in the Maxwell Cohen Moot Court on August 30, as the freshly registered incoming class of 2012 assembled for the very first time. Together with the faculty and staff, the new undergraduates of McGill’s Faculty of Law filled every available seat and overflowed into the aisles of the storied classroom.
It was a disparate group, but the 170-odd new students were united as one in their evident excitement as they awaited the Dean’s traditional address; some shod in pink Crocs, others in trainers clutching bike helmets, still others sporting a spiffy jacket and tie, they chattered away in French and English and introduced themselves to their classmates, whether a dewy-faced CEGEP grad or a mature student starting a third degree, or even a second career.
Nicole Ginsberg, Acting Assistant Dean (Admissions & Recruitment), opened the Faculty’s official welcome by saying to our newest members, “you have impressed and humbled us with your talents, your achievements, your character. You are each spectacular. And,” gesturing around the packed room, “you are in good company.” Aware of the possible trepidation felt by these first-years, Ginsberg added some words to remember: “You do belong here; you were selected for a reason—many reasons in fact. So own it. Contribute, get involved in this community and work hard. And I know you will succeed.”
Without further ado, she introduced the new Law Students Association President, Graham Splawski, who welcomed the incoming class to “the roller coaster ride we call law school.” Splawski congratulated those assembled on having made it here and, though he cautioned that they will indeed work hard, also dangled the promise that “you will find that law school is not without its benefits.”
For instance, he encouraged this year’s newbies to participate in the 30-plus student clubs, the weekly Thursday coffeehouse—“where there is no coffee and, indeed, no house,” as Professor Manderson once put it—as well as the students’ annual campaign “to choose, and then emulate, the best-dressed professor.” He also made note of the Faculty’s Malpractice Cup, a competition held each September versus the Faculty of Medicine, to which he added the wry hope that “there are more gifted athletes among you than there were last year, when we lost every single event, except the tug-of-war and, of course, trivia.”
When the laughter died down, Splawski stressed that McGill is unique in another helpful way, in that here, “we can turn to our classmates for support in the tough times.” Each of us have unique skills, he added, that can be of immense value not only to ourselves, but also to our fellow students, our Faculty, our University, and society at large. On behalf of the LSA, he invited the incoming students to join in a shared project, to “take the next three and a half years to devote your skills to improving your community, however you define it.”
Having suitably warmed up the room with his warm and sometimes irreverent remarks, Splawski passed the floor to the Dean for his highly anticipated annual welcome.
In what was a funny, thoughtful and fully bilingual address, Dean Daniel Jutras introduced students to the unique place that is McGill’s Faculty of Law. He sketched a brief history of the Faculty over the last 160 years, only to underline the fact that this, historically, has been a law faculty like no other. “That’s because it doesn’t just care about being good—or better yet, great—but because, as an institution, what it aspires to, deep in its soul, is to be different.” To this, Jutras added that « vous êtes différents, et peut-être un peu bizarres, comme nous. »
Stressing that at McGill, we try to keep both languages, as both legal traditions, in play all the time, Jutras humourously exhibited the art of passing back and forth entre l’anglais et le français in the middle of every sentence, sans jamais traduire. Why do we do this? « Parce qu’aucune langue, ni aucune tradition juridique, d’ailleurs, n’exprime parfaitement tout ce qui doit être exprimé. Le sens se trouve […] dans le regard croisé d’une pluralité de perspectives,» he explained.
Jutras, who confessed himself a “first-day of school junkie—un accro de la rentrée—all the way back to kindergarten,” concluded by playfully listing the Top Five Apps for McGill Law, from ‘Garage Band’ (because learning should be “closer to a good jam session than to passive note-taking”) to ‘Time Machine’ (because law itself is “a tradition, a memory that is handed down to us and a manifestation of our humanity, connecting it to time, space and cultures.”)
“We’ve got a good mix this year,” observed Ginsberg after the assembly reluctantly broke up, needing to refuel at a free lunch in the Atrium before the next of many orientation activities. “There are students of various backgrounds and interests, from community activists to entrepreneurs to scientists,” she observed. “We try to ensure that our admissions process is meaningfully holistic, and I think the fruits of that approach are evident in the students we saw assembled here today. The calibre of this first-year class is truly impressive.”
Welcome 2.0 & 3.0
New graduate students were feted in turn on September 5, at a lunch-time reception on the third floor of New Chancellor Day Hall, complete with ample food, drinks, coffee and classic Canadian Nanaimo bars. Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) Rosalie Jukiertook the podium to welcome our 58 new LLMs and nine new DCLs, from more than two dozen countries “spanning the full range of the alphabet, from Argentina and Australia at one end to Zimbabwe at the other end.”
Having just arrived in Montreal, after many years of legal education in universities from all corners of Canada and the world—including Croatia, India, Colombia, Ireland, Nigeria, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Peru, Thailand, Rwanda, Mexico, France, the U.K. and the U.S.—our latest graduate students will surely find here “a new culture, new climate, new law, new language or a new way of doing things,” said Jukier.
She urged them to embrace the “transsystemic” ethos of this Faculty, and to “start thinking through the prism of the unfamiliar.” Jukier also spoke of the role graduate students play in shaping the Faculty of Law, by enhancing it with a rich blend of diverse backgrounds, cultures, legal traditions, experiences and languages.
Yolandi Jansen, a representative of the Graduate Law Students Association (GLSA), also welcomed the incoming graduate students, exhorting them to take advantage of their time at McGill—“go to the conferences, take up the networking opportunities”—as well as in Montreal—“go out and enjoy every season, even winter: it’s not as bad as they say!”—and with each other: “Don’t waste a moment,” advised Jansen.
In all, there are now 140 graduate students at McGill, pursuing multiple research interests, from environmental law to bio-ethics, as well as specialized studies in human rights, comparative law, or air and space law.
The Faculty wishes them all a very warm welcome, indeed.
By Bridget Wayland