Former premier donates $300K to moot court program

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna and his wife will donate $300,000 to St. Thomas University’s moot court program.

In an announcement at STU on Oct. 24, McKenna said the personal donation is in the name of his long-time assistant Ruth McCrea, who died this summer.

“We worked together for some 35 years and I credit her with all my successes,” McKenna said of McCrea, a STU alumnus.

“She was a magnificent warrior. A fiery redhead who inspired confidence and respect … She made me who I am.”

Frank McKenna talked to members of the moot court team after the announcement. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

McKenna said the international success of STU’s moot court team made it an obvious choice for honouring McCrea’s courage, heart and spirit.

In January, students Matt LeBlanc and Robbie Lynn placed 22nd out of 350 at a national United States competition in Gulfport, Florida.

At the same event, Navy Vezina and Alexandra Monteith also brought STU to a third-place victory with their written brief and Emma Walsh and Brianna Matchett placed in the top 48 among 350 teams.

STU students took their moot court skills to the international stage in July at the Nelson Mandela World Moot Court Competition in Geneva, Switzerland.

Represented by Vezina and Abbie LeBlanc, STU was the first-ever Canadian team to participate. Their arguments came out on top against Yale Law School, the University of Oxford and in the final against the University of Buenos Aires.

From left to right: University president Dawn Russell, Navy Venzia, Abbie LeBlanc, and Julie and Frank McKenna. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

McKenna told The Aquinian the fact that STU students have been that successful, especially without law degrees, spoke to the spirit of McCrae.

“She was a scrapper. She was feisty. She never backed down, she just believed that you should have confidence and move forward all the time,” he said.

“I can’t think of a better way of honouring my feisty assistant than by supporting this feisty moot court team.”

McKenna, who is the deputy chair of the Toronto-Dominion Bank, said it will make a $100,000 donation to the university’s capital campaign. The campaign is 60 per cent of the way to its $10-million goal.

‘A wonderful opportunity’

Moot court students didn’t know about the donation until they attended the announcement on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re very grateful for the funding. We really appreciate all the experiences that moot court allows us to achieve,” said Emily Williams, a third-year student.

Williams and her moot court partner Camille Xavier travelled to a scrimmage in Cleveland, Ohio two weeks ago to gain experience.

They and other teammates headed to Albany, New York this past weekend for a regional competition. Emma Walsh and Brianna Workman won, meaning they will be going to Dallas for the nationals. Xavier and Williams will also be going to nationals. STU also made up 40 per cent of all speaker awards given at the Albany regional.

Xavier said the promise of STU’s moot court being financially sustainable is exciting.

“It provides so many opportunities,” Xavier said.

Camille Xavier (left) and her partner Emily Williams (right) are headed to Albany this weekend for another competition. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“It’s awesome. It’s great because then other students will get the same opportunities hopefully to continue to learn and grow and share the loveliness of St. Thomas throughout the community.”

Human rights professor Amanda DiPaolo is responsible for bringing moot court to St. Thomas. She said she was in shock when she found out about the donation a few weeks ago.

“It’s so exciting and now to hear it, to actually hear it announced, is really amazing,” she said on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for our students to know that moot court will exist every year.”

DiPaolo said the money will be used each year for tournament registration fees and travel expenses. The team attends about seven competitions per year, she said, and participation fees can cost upwards of $1000 each.

DiPaolo said this money ensures the program can run for decades to come.

Bringing home the bacon

In 2012, McKenna provided the university with a $1-million donation to fund the Frank McKenna Centre for Communications and Public Policy.

He said promoting experiential learning opportunities for students is a necessity.

“What I love about experiential learning is that it actually places you right in the real world, and you not only get your own experience and knowledge, but you receive it,” he said.

“I think it makes you much more job-ready.”

The former premier said he loves how experiential learning places students in the real world. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

McKenna has a bachelor of arts degree in political science and economics from St. Francis Xavier University, as well as a law degree from the University of New Brunswick.

He said today’s world needs people who are flexible and open-minded.

“A liberal arts education gives you the raw material and then you’ve got all these different channels in front of you, then you can take that raw material and use it.”

McKenna hopes the donation to the moot court program will allow its students to continue training and get more of them involved.

“Make it an exciting part of university life, and then go off to competitions all over the world and bring home the bacon.”

With files from Angela Bosse

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