TMU’s first law school grads ready ‘to shape the future’

by Ron Fanfair
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Far more important than their belongings in suitcases were the dreams of making a better life for their children, hairstylist Debra Ramdoo and Andy Allyn brought when they left Trinidad & Tobago.
Safia Thompson Ramdoo is a beneficiary of their selfless sacrifices.
Unable to afford tuition and other compulsory fees after completing her undergraduate degree at York University in 2013, Thompson Ramdoo worked in the beauty and creative industry, rising to Operations Manager with responsibility for implementing new company policies.
The seven-year wait to get into law school was worth it. Not only did she graduate with honours among the first cohort of Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) Lincoln Alexander School of Law, but she was the inaugural class valedictorian.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow graduates, Thompson Ramdoo reminded them they have a huge responsibility.
“We have cultivated a law school where we have maintained positivity in the face of adversity, fell in love with expanding our critical faculties and acted selflessly,” she said. “We founded student unions and associations, led pro bono projects, established student-initiated scholarships and awards and won provincial and national competitions.
“We have engaged in uncomfortable classroom discussions because we understood that is a place where the magic happens. Conversations about race, gender, mental health and reconciliation in the context of the law were spaces for us to learn, grow and apply. The friendships we have built we are indebted to for a lifetime. Naturally as the new kids on the block, we were questioned. The rigour and academic excellence of our institution was challenged, but you understood the assignment.”
Thompson Ramdoo, who with Shanelle Dover co-founded TMU’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) that started a Black Excellence Award for a student entering the law school, said the cohort was privileged to attend an institution that chooses to be colourful in representation daily.
“But how privileged is our law school to have such change makers and trailblazers take a chance on it, a chance that has and will impact the trajectory of our lives and the legal profession in a meaningful way,” she said.
As they start a career in legal practice, Thompson Ramdoo had some useful advice for her peers.
“As lawyers of the future, colleagues and voices of the unheard, your emotional intelligence will allow you to quite literally cradle the pain and vulnerabilities of others in the carved-out echoes of your own,” she said. “Your empathy is your superpower and it is required to serve the diverse society before us. Success takes a village; it is a collective effort and so I encourage you to understand your peers’ wins as your own wins. Cheer them on and speak highly of them in rooms they may not enter. Lastly, give back to the community and do so freely, genuinely and without expectation.”
Nominated by student peers, Thompson Ramdoo’s valedictorian address was validated by a committee of faculty and staff members.
She was the first recipient of the Dennis Mock Student Leadership Award, the Andy & Valerie Pringle Law School scholarship, the Vs. All-Odds Award and the Greenspan Humphrey Weinstein LLP Award in Criminal Law.
As a teaching and research assistant in her upper years in law school, Thompson Ramdoo helped students navigate complex property law concepts and covered ways to improve criminal law pedagogy with respect to race, mental health, gender and Indigeneity. She also designed and launched a pro bono job shadow program for undergraduate students and edited the ‘Wrongful Conviction Law Review’.
She will article at McCarthy Tetrault with the aim of becoming a Partner.
Thompson Ramdoo’s long-term goal is to serve as a Judge on the Canadian Bench.
Starting their law studies online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean Donna Young said the cohort was the definition of patience and perseverance.
“Over the course of the last three years while we were teaching you to be a new kind of lawyer, you were teaching us the twin values of patience and perseverance, the critical importance of building a caring and supportive community and the enduring power of legacy,” she said. “You took a chance on us. When you applied for admission in 2019, we were still a concept waiting to be realized. When COVID turned the world upside down and forced us to close our doors and retreat into isolation, you were not deterred. You adjusted to a brand-new law school that was administered mostly remotely and that was being built one year at a time.”
The lessons the cohort have taught Young, the faculty and staff along with their classmates and colleagues, acknowledged the Dean, are a gift that will always be cherished.
“We can’t wait to see you start your legal careers, help transform the legal system and shine as the leaders you are,” said Young. “We are confident that you will bring the same grit, patience and perseverance we saw in you as students to your projects in law practice, advocacy and public life. We are thrilled at the possibilities for change and innovation that you each represent. The best is yet to come.”
TMU’s President & Vice-Chancellor Dr. Mohamed Lachemi said the graduation is a milestone moment in the university’s life. The School of Law was first proposed nearly a decade ago.
“At that time, the path to succeed appeared almost impossible,” Lachemi said. “Everyone we talked to was saying this is going to be a failure. But people who make the university so special, our community, persevered. They overcame obstacles and brought a new era of law to the university, a new era of legal education and the practice of law in this province.”
He thanked the graduates for choosing the Lincoln Alexander School of Law to pursue their legal studies.
“You put your faith in an idea and a vision and you became part of that vision,” he said. “We will forever be grateful to you for giving us that vote of confidence. I promise you we will continue to build that vision. Today is a day of celebration for the doers, the dreamers, the people who believe it is possible to change for the better to make a society that is more equitable, more responsive, more accessible and more fair where anyone can reach their potential regardless of their race, faith, gender, economic background or place of origin.
“There will be more milestones for the school and this university in the future, but there will only be one inaugural class of law school graduates. That is you, the Class of 2023. Enjoy your special day and stay close to your alma mater for, together, we will shape the future.”
In choosing to attend a new law school, Chancellor Janice Fukakusa said the cohort decided on a new approach to legal education and then had to navigate a global pandemic.
“You came through all of this achieving your ultimate objective,” she said. “Be proud of what you have achieved and never stop learning. Embrace a lifetime of personal growth. The best way to achieve that is to cultivate your curiosity because embracing opportunity and new challenges will expand your horizons and take you to places you would never imagine. As you navigate your career path, wherever that takes you, remember that your work is going to fill your day and a large part of your life. The only way to make that truly satisfying is to do what you believe is great work and the only way to do that is to love what you do. You will know when you find it.”
Fukakusa also encouraged the graduates to give back to the community, their workplace and to family and friends.
Kimberly Murray, the Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves & Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools, was awarded an honorary degree.
“Today marks an important day in your story,” the former Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada executive director told the graduates. “Everyone here today will forever be connected – part of the first ever graduating class of the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at the newly-named Toronto Metropolitan University. You are now forever part of a collective story of an institution that has and continues to reflect on its own history. The creation story of the Toronto Metropolitan University, which was previously named Ryerson, had ties to a dark chapter in Canadian history.”
The statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system, was toppled in June 2021 during a rally organized in response to the preliminary discovery of the remains of as many as 215 Indigenous children buried on the site of the former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
After feedback from over 30,000 people and 2,600 suggestions, the name was changed in April 2022.
“All of you should take pride in being part of an institution that has acknowledged the past and has acted and continues to take action and to make change,” said Murray who was the province’s first Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Indigenous Justice.
“When I was first approached to participate in reviewing the proposal to create the new law school, many people said to me, ‘we don’t need another law school, we don’t need another law school in Toronto’. I disagreed. I was convinced then and I remain convinced today that we need to move away from the cookie cutter templates of delivering legal education and legal services. We cannot keep doing things the same old way because if we do, we will continue to exclude and underserve certain segments of society, including Indigenous, Black and racialized people and communities.”

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