By Karen Gross / Photography by Lisa Kannakko

This donor profile is from the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Nexus

Melissa Kennedy (LLB ’87)When Melissa Kennedy, LLB 1987, was a law student, she covered the costs herself. “I worked. I paid my own way. I had student loans,” she says. “I didn’t receive financial aid from the law school, but I received financial aid from the province.”

Paying for school was a stretch, even though tuition back then was a fraction of what it is today. Kennedy worked on and off campus, one year serving as a don at Victoria College, which covered her room and board. She understands financial aid from a very personal point of view, and she supports it now because she knows there is a need. And she has the means to address it.  

“Things are definitely different from when we went to school in many respects,” Kennedy says. “Tuition is something that we can help with.”

Kennedy has spent a good part of her busy career looking for ways to help. Along with her impressive collection of professional awards, she’s been repeatedly recognized for her indefatigable volunteer work, which includes key roles with Legal Leaders of Diversity and Inclusion, and the University of Toronto’s Law Alumni Association. U of T lauded her with an Arbor Award, its highest honour for outstanding volunteerism. In her current corporate position, as executive vice president, chief legal officer and public affairs at Sun Life Financial, Kennedy is also the executive sponsor of sustainability, where she promotes diversity as a key component of organizational resilience.

 “I think you get the richest outcome when you have people involved in an activity from a variety of backgrounds,” she says. “Either they’re trained differently, they think differently or they’re from different cultures. I passionately believe that is the truth.”

That approach applies to the law school and by extension the legal profession, Kennedy argues. Casting a wider net and having the means to enroll the most promising students, regardless of background or ability to pay, will benefit the entire community.

“I think it has a huge correlation,” she says. “As lawyers, it doesn’t matter where we practice or what we practice. In law I think we will encounter a huge richness in problems, in clients, in situations, and having that richness being introduced at an early stage can only be beneficial.”