Conversations with valedictorians: Beatrice Mackie, Faculty of Law

"It’s normal when you get to McGill to feel a bit nervous about everything because everything about university feels so new but, honestly, saying yes to things and taking the leap can really change the course of your entire degree"

A diverse, multitalented group, the Spring 2022 valedictorians are citizens of the world with remarkably varied backgrounds. Some hail from distant places – Quito, Ecuador; Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; and Rakh Bharoke Dhaki, Pakistan. Others were born nearby – Johnson, Vermont and Bolton Ontario. And some valedictorians come from right next door – Chambly, Quebec and Montreal’s West Island.

This year’s cohort, while coming from vastly different backgrounds, share enthusiasm, ambition and a well-rounded philosophy of life. These outstanding students have also earned the respect of the peers who they represent through their strong academic performance, leadership and commitment to making the University – and the world – a better place.

As part of our Spring 2022 Convocation coverage, the Reporter is conducting a series of Q&A interviews with some of our valedictorians.

In our first instalment, we feature Beatrice Mackie, who delivered the valedictorian address for the Faculty of Law on May 26.

What is your degree?

Law (B.C.L/J.D.) with a minor in Political Science.

Why did you choose McGill?

I have always had some ties to McGill. My mom graduated from the Faculty of Arts in 1987 and one of my older brothers graduated from the Faculty of Law in 2018. Having lived in downtown Montreal for almost five years before applying to McGill, I already felt a strong connection to the University. I had walked by the downtown campus hundreds of times but, when I visited it with the mindset of a potential student, I knew McGill would be a good fit for me.

Academically, I knew that going to McGill Law would open doors for me like no other. Every year, McGill Law admits a small number of students to its law program directly from CEGEP. I was fortunate enough to be one of those students.

Applying to McGill Law during my last semester of CEGEP was honestly a decision that I kind of made on a whim – I didn’t know if law was my calling, but I knew that law school would teach me many valuable skills relevant to any possible future career I would have. Out of all the universities I had applied to, McGill was the only one that admitted CEGEP students to its law program.

When it came time to decide between the different admissions offers that I had received, I knew that I could not give up the amazing opportunity of attending law school without a bachelor’s degree under my belt.

What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?

I remember thinking that the campus was absolutely beautiful. The architecture of the older buildings, especially on McTavish, really caught my eye. Given that I had attended much smaller schools prior to McGill, McGill’s campus felt huge to me. It almost felt like its own little city within Montreal. I will be honest in saying that I used Google Maps for an embarrassingly long time to make my way across campus from building to building.

What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?

Beatrice Mackie

My involvement in student government was definitely a highlight of my degree. I held various positions on both SSMU and the Law Students’ Association (LSA) – all of which allowed me to create meaningful memories and meet many friends outside of the Faculty of Law.

I especially loved serving as LSA President in my third year. This role gave me so many fantastic opportunities that I never would have had otherwise, such as speaking at the Commission of Institutions at Quebec’s National Assembly and aiding in the planning of first-ever virtual events due to COVID-19 like Frosh. Being able to serve the student community in this way is something I will forever look back on very fondly.

I also really enjoyed participating in McGill Law’s for-credit “outside of the classroom” activities which were centered on building practical skills. In my third year, I was on a competitive mooting team where my partner and I took home the Best Plaintiff Factum Award. This year, I was a Tutorial Leader in the fall for the Advocacy course and, in the winter, I was the Group Assistant for Advanced Civil Law Obligations. All these activities allowed me to get to know the different cohorts at McGill Law while developing new practical abilities at the same time.

Another highlight of mine was my first-year Constitutional Law course with Prof. Mark Walters (now Dean Walters of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University). His course really ignited a passion in me for constitutional law issues and has impacted my career aspirations. While sitting in his class, I knew that the decision to pursue law school was the right one.

Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?

  • Lower field. Once it hits over 5 degrees, everyone flocks to lower field and just acts like it’s the summertime. It definitely brings a lot of life to campus. It is especially lovely when Open Air Pub is running or when the hot dog man is set up for the season.
  • The area outside the McConnell Engineering Building and the Milton Gates, where people like to sit along the steps. Despite not having a single engineering-minded bone in my body, I always spent a lot of time at McEng for Blues Pub, SSMU meetings and samosa sales. So, whenever I was walking to that area and waiting outside the building to meet with friends, I knew we were always about to do something fun.
  • The 4th floor of Nahum Gelber Law Library. Even though the time I spent there wasn’t the most…invigorating, I had a favourite study carrel that I sat at all the time. It had a really nice view of outside, and I loved to look out the window as the seasons, the sky and the weather changed between little bouts of work. I will also confess that I could eat a granola bar there without the librarian catching me to remind me that the area was a no-eating zone, which was a surprisingly important advantage.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?

I personally really struggled during the semesters where we were virtual due to COVID-19. Given that my favourite part of studying at McGill was being with friends, participating in extracurriculars and feeling that sense of community, I really felt like being away from campus took a huge mental toll on me. Of course, my mental health naturally improved once I could return to in-person classes and see my friends regularly again. However, that was not enough to get me feeling mentally healthy again; it took a lot of work. I overcame these struggles by prioritizing my mental health, finding new ways to practice self-care, and exercising more. All in all, it’s been for the best as it forced me to slow down and re-evaluate my routine.

What’s next for you, both short and long term?

In the short term, I will be attending Quebec Bar School to become a lawyer in Quebec, after which I will be articling with the federal Department of Justice in their Civil Litigation directorate. I will also be taking a much-needed vacation this summer for a month across Europe.

In the long-term, I am very open to whatever opportunities life throws my way – whether they be related to the practice of law or not. What I do know for sure is that I want to dedicate my future, especially my career, to helping others and to spreading kindness. No matter what I do, it will always be value-driven.

Tell me about your Faculty and your classmates. How important have they been to your overall McGill experience?

Given our smaller size, the Faculty of Law is its own little community. There are so many jokes that are unique to our Faculty’s students and which unite all of us. Especially in the most difficult times of the pandemic, where the online community was all we really had, my fellow law students brightened up my days.

Faculty members have also been incredibly formative to my experience at McGill Law. The amount of support I received from different professors and staff members over the years gave me the confidence to succeed in the challenges I took on throughout my degree.

Who or what will you miss most?

As cheesy as it may sound, I will miss what many would call “the mundane everyday” like commuting to 8:30 am classes; walking across campus when the sun is shining; laughing with friends in the quiet section of the library when you absolutely can’t hold in your laughter; the fun late-night study breaks; and sitting on the benches near the Y intersection with lunch The list goes on.

Practicing gratitude is a value that my mom raised me with, and one that was re-enforced for me during the pandemic. All these small moments mean so much to me.

What advice do you have for new students to McGill?

Say yes. Don’t let fear get in the way of opportunities – take opportunities as they come! During my degree, I benefited a lot from times where I said “yes” to something out of my comfort zone or something that made me nervous, whether it was joining a specific extra-curricular or going to an event alone. It’s normal when you get to McGill to feel a bit nervous about everything because everything about university feels so new but, honestly, saying yes to things and taking the leap can really change the course of your entire degree.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the world today? How confident are you that we can address these challenges and make a difference?

That’s a big question to tackle! I think that a huge challenge facing the world right now is that care and kindness aren’t at the forefront of decision-making at all levels, yet they should be. I think the pandemic especially highlighted the importance of caring for your neighbour, as has the climate crisis with caring about the world around you and how you treat it. A lot of decision-making, at all levels, has become self-interested. I think that, if care and kindness were at the forefront, a lot of big issues the world has been facing would be called into question.

I am confident that this can be overcome – mostly because I like to believe that a majority of people are well-intentioned. But I do not think that this kind of change requires a great amount of work.

Do you have anything to add?

Just a really big thank you! Thank you to my mom especially for supporting me like no other. Thank you to my brothers for always lending me a helping hand when I need it (after making fun of me, of course, as older brothers do). Thank you to all my friends, old and new, who are always in my corner. And lastly, thank you to my cohort for entrusting me as your valedictorian.

Below is the video of the Faculty of Law Convocation ceremony. You can view Beatrice Mackie’s address at 1:18:50.