Alumni profile: A call to action

October 2014

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A decade after receiving their BCL/LLB degrees, Stephen Panunto and Carol Gagné talk about where their education has taken them and where they want to take that education.

In many ways, Stephen Panunto (BCL/LLB’04) and Carol Gagné (BCL/LLB’05) are typical McGill Law grads ten years out from graduation.

Carol Gagné: 'I think education goes beyond the classroom, so it is nice [to contribute to] something that goes beyond sitting in class.'

Carole Gagné: ‘I think education goes beyond the classroom, so it is nice to contribute to something that goes beyond sitting in class.’

The couple, who met as students at the Faculty, have both parlayed their law degrees into successful careers: Panunto works in civil litigation in his own firm and Gagné does regulatory law for the National Energy Board. They live in Calgary with their two young children and they still keep in touch with many of their BCL/LLB classmates.

They are also fierce advocates of the McGill Law ethos: “The thing that makes McGill different to me is not just knowing what the law is but knowing why the law is like it is,” Panunto says. “Having a diverse student body allows you to have those points of view. I like to think we have a global view of things as a result.”

In other ways, especially in their willingness to engage in their community, the couple stands apart.

Along with four other class members, Panunto helped organize the 10-year reunion for the class of 2004 during the 2014 Homecoming weekend, putting together a series of events, from drinks at Thomson House to a sit-down dinner at Chez Victoire.

Panunto, who travelled from Calgary to Montreal to attend, said the weekend was “just like old times.”

“I was amazed at how little people have changed,” he exclaimed. “At some point I looked out, and if I had taken a guess at who hung out at Coffeehouse during time at McGill, I saw the same groups hanging out together.”

“It’s one thing to talk on the phone three time zones away and another thing to actually have a drink with people,” he added.

Panunto and Gagné also made a contribution earlier this year to the Schull Yang Student International Program — a matching program for student experiences abroad — by establishing a human rights internship in their daughter’s name, with a view to encouraging students to pursue the diversity of viewpoints that enriched their legal education.

Steve Panunto: 'I think that whatever success I have as a lawyer, it's because I had an open-minded, diverse education.'

Steve Panunto: ‘I think that whatever success I have as a lawyer, it’s because I had an open-minded, diverse education.’

Gagné emphasized the ways in which her experiences outside of the classroom contributed to her overall education. “I took advantage of some of the non-class opportunities, like the Legal Information Clinic,” she says, adding that that experience taught her invaluable lessons about the law. “Learning that there are different ways of doing things outside of traditional classes is important.”

“I knew people who went and did those internships and had a great time and I remember it being entertaining at Coffeehouse hearing their stories,” Panunto says. “That was invaluable… McGill was not just about the classroom education; I felt like McGill had much more a mission to save the world.”

Invoking the idea of the social contract as instilled in him by Professor Rod Macdonald, Panunto called on his fellow graduates to consider making a contribution as well.

“I was surprised to find out that we were one of the few people in our class who are giving,” he said. “If you are in a position where you are saving the world and you don’t have a lot of income, that’s one thing. I’m a sole practitioner and I feel very successful and we are both very lucky. I certainly don’t think we are the only people making a comfortable living off of our McGill degrees.”

“I think that whatever success I have as a lawyer, it’s primarily because I had the type of open-minded, diverse education offered at McGill Law,” he added.

Both Panunto and Gagné see their gift as a contribution to that ideal of the open-minded and diverse education.

“I think education goes beyond the classroom, so it is nice to contribute to something that goes beyond sitting in class,” Gagné said. “Classes here are great but opportunities that [provide a broader perspective] are important, too.”


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