For the First Time in More Than a Quarter-Century, All Three are Women
On the road to receiving her law degree, Alison Imrie’s journey was marked by the barriers she broke through to reach the top of her graduating class.
Osgoode Hall Law School presented its top academic awards for the Class of 2022 at the June 16 convocation ceremony, with the gold medal going to Imrie, the silver medal to Madeleine Beaudry and the bronze medal to Jacqueline Kang. For the first time in more than 25 years, all three of Osgoode’s highest-achieving students are women. The academic medals are based on the cumulative grade point average over all three years of law school.
At the age of 17, Imrie became ill with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Among other symptoms, the condition severely limits her energy and tolerance for exertion, requiring her to study and work part-time.
“It is gratifying to receive this award,” she said, “as it signifies that despite all the accessibility-related challenges I experienced, and despite the limitations I experience from my illness, I was able to find a way to make it work and to succeed academically through my time in law school.
“I still don’t know how exactly it will work out throughout my legal career,” she added, “but this award helps me feel confident that I will be able to continue finding ways to make it work, no matter the challenges.”
Imrie said that without the option of Osgoode’s extended time program, which allowed her to complete her law degree on a part-time basis over five years, she would not have been able to attend law school at all.
She said she’s also grateful for the supportive professors she found at Osgoode, paying particular tribute to Associate Professor Amar Bhatia, Assistant Professor Palma Paciocco and Assistant Professor Emily Kidd White.
Imrie, a religious studies graduate from McMaster University, said she originally dismissed the idea of pursuing a legal career but was intrigued by Osgoode’s depth and range of courses.
“I think I had envisioned law school as quite dry and unrelated to the social realities of the world around me,” she said. “But seeing courses that focused on systemic and societal issues and the role of the law in trying to ameliorate injustice piqued my interest and made me reconsider exploring law as a career.”
Beginning in August, Imrie will be clerking at the Ontario Court of Appeal and, after that, is contemplating a return to refugee law, a field she worked in for two summers. “I’m not sure yet,” she said, “beyond knowing that I want to use my law degree to do work that will contribute to pushing back against the ways the law is often used to further, rather than reduce, injustice and oppression.”
For silver medallist Madeleine Beaudry, attending law school meant leaving behind a career she loved as a business consultant and taking a leap into the unknown. But she wasn’t done learning yet, she said, and she believed that a legal education would give her the knowledge, skills and resources to make a positive impact.
“This award is a good reminder to keep taking risks and trusting myself,” reflected the Mississauga, Ont. native, who earned her undergraduate degree in commerce. “My experience turned out to be better than I even could have imagined.”
Before attending law school, Beaudry recalled, she sometimes heard horror stories about “cutthroat competitiveness” among students. The reality was quite the opposite.
Indeed, she said, she owes her success in large part to Osgoode’s supportive community and culture. “My learning and academic success,” she noted, “is very much attributable to classmates that I studied with, mentors who shared their time and resources generously, and faculty with open doors (even virtually).”
Now, as Beaudry begins her law career at the international business law firm Torys LLP, she said she is excited by the possibilities.
“I’m inspired by a favourite quote of mine from (the late U.S. Supreme Court judge) Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” she said. “’Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. That means don’t do it just for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.’”
Bronze medal recipient Jacqueline Kang is pursuing her unique path, as well. The second-generation Korean Canadian studied medical sciences at Western University and took time to travel before enrolling at Osgoode. For her, she said, her award not only represents the culmination of her efforts, but the loving support of family and friends.
“During challenging times throughout law school,” she said, “I leaned on friends to laugh and commiserate; I reflected on the sacrifice and resilience of my grandparents who immigrated to Canada; and I depended on the unconditional support of my parents.”
She said that memories of Osgoode’s diverse and dynamic student body and faculty will stay with her for years to come.
“I am grateful for the diversity of cultural, political and aspirational differences,” she said, “particularly those who shared their experiences and opinions that were different from my own, challenging my preconceived views and developing my ability to think critically.”
Following graduation, Kang said she will article with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in Toronto. And beyond that? “More generally,” she reflected, “I hope to have a challenging career that intersects with innovation, while also having opportunities to support underrepresented groups.”
All three academic medallists said they are immensely proud that this year’s three top achievers are women.
“I spent many lecture breaks walking the halls and looking at class composites with only men in the graduating class,” said Kang. “In a small way, this demonstrates the progress occurring in the legal field and I’m looking forward to seeing a greater representation of women.”