Conversations with valedictorians: Debbie Yeboah, Faculty of Law

"There has not been another time in my life where I have been surrounded by such a vast group of truly amazing people"

Hailing from around the world, McGill’s valedictorians are a diverse, multitalented group. When they came to the University, they brought with them their unique backgrounds, passions and ambitions. While they all praise the education they received at McGill, one thing is certain, the University has benefitted just as much for having them as valuable, contributing members of our community.

These outstanding students have 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.

While COVID-19 made it impossible for them to deliver their respective addresses in in-person ceremonies, they still have important messages to deliver. The Reporter has conducted a series of interviews with this year’s valedictorians.

In our final instalment, we feature Debbie Yeboah, the valedictorian for the Faculty of Law.

Debbie Yeboah, valedictorian for the Faculty of Law

What is your hometown?
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Why did you choose McGill?
So many reasons… It is a great university with an amazing reputation, it was an opportunity to live in Montreal, as McGill law students we graduate with two degrees instead of just one (a JD and a BCL), it was the first law school to send me an acceptance letter, it had the most affordable tuition fees, it would give me an opportunity to improve my French… the list goes on. Yet, perhaps the most important reason I chose McGill is because studying at McGill was kind of a dream come true for me. I mentioned this in my personal statement when I applied to McGill and in my valedictorian speech:

La première fois que j’ai visité l’Université de McGill, j’étais en 8e année. Les étudiants d’immersion francais ont pris un voyage éducatif à Montréal pour faire l’éxperience d’une environnement française authentique. Nous avons fait une tournée du campus de McGill, et je souviens, à l’age de 13 ans, d’avoir pensé « il serait incroyable d’étudier ici un jour ». C’était incroyable.

This is the earliest memory I have of wanting to go to any university at all. It really was a pleasure to be a student at McGill.

What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?
Excluding my first experience on the McGill campus in Grade 8, what I remember most about the first time I was at McGill as a law student was how steep the hill leading up to the Law Faculty is. I simply was not expecting a hill and it was a really hot day! I was more out of breath than I care to admit. I also remember that there was construction on Peel Street so the bus had to skip the bus stop where Google Maps had told me to get off, so there was a fear of getting lost. (Peel Street was under some sort of construction for the majority of my legal education, so this was actually quite fitting.) Mainly, I remember a bright sunny day and a healthy mix of nerves and excitement.

What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?
Meeting some of my now closest friends was the biggest highlight. Going on exchange in Paris was an absolutely amazing and unforgettable time. Representing McGill University at the J-A Isaac Moot competition was phenomenal. (The McGill moot team which I was a part of competed against other universities like U of T, Windsor and Osgoode, and we ultimately won the competition!) Being part of the Annishanaabe Law Camp with John Borrows, being a Tutorial Leader for the first year legal methodologies course, meeting some Supreme Court Justices… There were a lot of highlights!

Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?
The Birks Reading Room, the McGill Law Library and Thomson House. This is in no particular order.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?
The sheer workload was a huge challenge. Some of the best advice I received in law school was “don’t read everything, but don’t read nothing.” I think for me, dealing with the workload was about seeking out and accepting help, making time to visit my profs during their office hours if I had questions, finding good summaries, leaning on my classmates, and making time to do things I enjoyed doing outside of law school.

What’s next for you?
I will begin articling at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman (TDS), a full-service firm in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on September 8.

Who will you miss the most?
I made some really great friends at McGill and I will miss them all dearly. Shout-out to my best friend Ana Lucia, who I definitely miss the most. I’m going to miss some of my profs too, and the little interactions I got to have with people I would run into in the atrium. I will also really miss my church community in Montreal, I loved everyone at Church 21. And my friend Marianne, who I’m still trying to convince to move back to Winnipeg.

What are your long-term goals and plans?
All I can say right now is that I want to be the best lawyer I can be. I am looking forward to working at TDS and living in Winnipeg where I am with my family.

Tell me about your Faculty and your classmates. What does it mean for you to be representing them as valedictorian?
My Faculty and my classmates were the best. They really were the best. It was a true honour to represent them as valediction. In my valedictorian address I said “There has not been another time in my life where I have been surrounded by such a vast group of truly amazing people.” And I mean it. It was a class full of intelligent, driven and truly kind individuals and I am so excited to see what this group of students will do now that we have graduated.

What advice do you have for new students starting at McGill this fall?
Work hard, make the most of every experience, take time to continue to do things that bring you joy, and if you are going to law school then find good summaries.

Did you attend your virtual convocation?
Yes, I attended my virtual convocation. I watched it at home with my parents, my brother, my auntie and three of my cousins. After the virtual convocation that McGill University organized, the Law Faculty organized a convocation celebration as well which was held live via Zoom. I am so thankful that the Law Faculty organized this convocation celebration for our cohort. I was able to deliver my valedictorian address this way and it was great to see the faces of my classmates on screen! In addition, my family organized a surprise graduation party for me. Due to COVID, the party consisted mostly of a parade, so my family decorated my drive-way with posters and balloons and signs, and people drove by in their cars, honked their horns and made a ton of noise. It was really special.

What was your experience with the pandemic?
I spent the lockdown at home in Winnipeg. I did not need to travel to come home because I was already home. I finished my last semester of law school in December 2019, and I knew I was not going to start work at the law firm until June 15, 2020 (that start date ended up being delayed due to the virus) so I came home knowing that I would have about a six-month break where I was done school, but had not yet started work. I had mainly planned to travel in that break so I unfortunately had to cancel some trips, but since I was already back home, was not in school and had not yet started my career I was much less affected by the pandemic than most.

Given that the winter semester’s on-campus activities came to an abrupt end, do you have any special “last” memories (last lecture, last study session, last hang-out with friends, etc.)?
My last semester was the fall semester of 2019 so it was unaffected by COVID. I was on exchange in Paris for my last semester, so my last school-related memory was doing an oral exam in French for Droit International Privée. My last non school-related memory was a view of the Eiffel Tower from the top of Montparnasse Tower.

Were you able to say goodbye to your classmates and professors, or maintain contact?
Yes, fortunately I finished my degree requirements before the pandemic hit.

Do you have anything to add?
Proud to be a McGillian!