Friday, August 5, 2016

First-year law students are getting ready to enter the Jackman Law Building as part of the Class of 2019, and we’d like to introduce some of them to you. In our annual series of profiles, meet: Major Craig Derenzis of the Royal Canadian Air Force, business graduate Davina Shivratan and Jiu Jitsu black belt Wanekia Dunn.

More profiles will be posted as they become available.

Stories by Karen Gross

From the mountains of Alaska to the skyscrapers of Toronto: Craig Derenzis

Incoming student Major Craig Derenzis of the RCAF

It’s a bit of an understatement to say Craig Derenzis took the long way to law school. The 39- year-old father of three young children drove 8,600 kilometres with his family from Eagle River Alaska, where he and his wife were both serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Major Derenzis spent the last five years flying the E3 AWACS for NATO and the US Air Force. Sort of like Tom Cruise in Top Gun—but not quite as glamourous.

“The pace of life is not as intense as it looks in the movies,” he says with a long chuckle. “It’s way more than we’d ever be able to maintain. You’d lose your mind if that was your life.”

That said, Derenzis’ life has been more interesting than most. After completing a commerce degree in New Brunswick and obtaining a computer software diploma in Halifax, he set aside a plan to go to law school and joined the Canadian military. His interest in the law was rekindled while serving in Europe and the Middle East, including as a liaison officer for NATO.

Craig Derenzis with one of his children, Alaska

“I always had the impression that legal officers were just involved in administration,” he says. “But when I saw how involved they were in operations, I decided I wanted to pursue that.”

Derenzis, who also holds a master’s in international relations, is being sponsored by the military. In return, he’ll owe them five years as a legal officer with the JAG corps after he graduates. That’ll take him off the front line he’s been used to, and into a more nuanced role.

He says he’s ready for the career change. But after three years immersed in the breathtaking beauty of Alaska, he’s less sure about the geographical letdown.

“It’s incredible there. Everywhere you look it’s gorgeous. We had moose and bears in our backyard.” he says. “In Toronto, the biggest thing we’re going to see is a raccoon.”


Driven to succeed, from one generation to the next: Davina Shivratan

As part of her law school application, Davina Shivratan recalled how as a small child, she learned to recite the alphabet backwards. Why? Because at age three, she needed a challenge. That drive to test herself propelled her along an impressive arc through an undergraduate degree in business and into the combined JD/MBA program at U of T. A daughter of Guyanese immigrants, Shivratan credits her parents with her relentless determination to succeed.

Davina Shivratan in Thailand

“I think the big thing was the work ethic,” she says. “My parents were driven to excel at whatever they did. My dad had to start working right after high school even though he really wanted to pursue further studies, and he was always a big advocate for education. He told me I had endless opportunities, so I should make the most of them.”

So far, it seems she has. While at business school, Shivratan joined the law association, becoming the club’s co-president. She spent a summer interning at RBC and the following summer at a small law firm. And she served as director of communications for the campus Civil Liberties Association. Along the way, Shivratan spent a semester in Hong Kong and traveled through 17 countries. Her goal is to get to 30, by the time she turns 30.

Davina Shivratan on her travels

“I’m most excited about opening my mind, and learning how to be an analytical thinker,” she says, adding that mergers and acquisitions seem like a field of practice that would suit her. “In litigation you see a lot of arguing, whereas in M&A, both sides want to make things work. You’re working to make better things happen.”

Shivratan says she’s drawn by the thrill of unpredictable obstacles. If some land in her path over the next four years, it’s a pretty good bet she’ll find a way past them as she pursues her ascent to the peak.


Wanekia Dunn

With his black belt in Jiu Jitsu and his devotion to the practice of mindfulness, Kia Dunn can now add law student to his curriculum vitae. Descended from a long line of Metis, Dunn’s mother was a shaman in the Aboriginal community. His father worked as an Aboriginal rights consultant. They separated when Dunn was 10; after his mother died, he moved in with his father. Money was scarce, Dunn says.

Kia Dunn (front left) at Jiu Jitsu

Dunn covered costs with help from the Ontario Students Assistance Program (OSAP), and by working two jobs on campus while completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy at Carleton University. Law school, he says, seemed like the natural next step. “The real draw for me in philosophy was ethics and values. Understanding why we have them and how they work in society. Law is the best practical application of that education.”

Dunn’s long term plan? He’s interested in corporate law; specifically working with businesses that want to put social responsibility ahead of profit. “The way I understand it, there are a lot of ways in which publicly traded companies can be sort of held hostage by their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders,” he says. “That can be really destructive for a lot of the more humanistic goals you might want to have in a business.”

Kia Dunn in Jiu Jitsu match

Before he gets there though, Dunn has some more immediate plans. He’ll be taking over the Jiu Jitsu club at Hart House, infusing it with the same dedication and enthusiasm he brought to the one at Carleton. He considers the martial art another form of the mindfulness mediation that has guided and anchored his life.

“Mindfulness allows people to be so much more part of their own existence,” he says. “With Jiu Jitsu, you’re under so much pressure, you become really clear minded. You never feel more calm, strangely enough.”