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Student Spotlight: Rohan Rajpal (Candidate '15)


Boarding school, mountain gorillas and long haul trucking

from Hearsay Magazine
Volume 35, Winter 2013/14

In 2006, at the age of 18, I came to Canada from a small town close to New Delhi, India. As a child I attended an all-boys boarding school called Sherwood College in the forested foothills of the Himalayas. The school was an archaic institution founded in 1869 for the children of British officers posted in India. While the British left India in 1947, many of the traditions of a 19th century British boarding school still exist, most of which would seem bizarre even in England today.

Even though the school population was predominately Hindu, I attended morning service at the school Protestant chapel every Monday to Friday for 10 years. We assembled for parade every morning, ate food that seemed to be right out of a Charles Dickens novel—but spicier—and slept in dormitories that accommodated over a hundred students in a hall. I will not forget the sound of the thundering monsoon rain on the slanted tin roofs while we lay warm in our beds. The camaraderie that students felt due to a decade of shared experiences holds strong to this day. Those formative years living in a tough, disciplined-based boarding school, where corporal punishment was the norm, have played an essential role in who I am today.

The first time I saw snow, I was shoveling walkways at 4 o’clock in the morning. This was one of my first jobs while attending Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario majoring in Business Administration. Employment options for international students in their first few years are limited. Other jobs I was able to find included working in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant, and venturing across downtown and campus selling Indian handicrafts at extraordinary margins.

By my third year at Trent, I decided to enter student politics. After a few embarrassing but invaluable defeats in student elections, I was elected president of the South Asian Association and the international student commissioner. In my fourth year, I was elected the V.P. finance of the student union. During that time, I worked with unions, university administrators and community organizations. I even successfully led a campaign to ban the sale of bottled water on campus.

There was no determinative reason why I decided to apply to law school. This really is no surprise, considering that many international students, because of financial pressures and a lack of mentorship, do not think of applying to law school.  Schulich Law gave me the opportunity to interview for a place in first year.

On a visit to Leh, India, surrounded by the highest mountains and desert in the world, I found out, after battling with a painfully slow Internet connection, that I was accepted into the Schulich School of Law. I had spent some time in Halifax while on a road trip from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island during my undergraduate years. I was thrilled that I was going to be able to live here. 

I deferred my admission to law school for a year because of immigration policies that required me to work for one year in order to pursue my permanent residence. After three months of struggling to find a job, I found one with Schneider National, a logistics and transportation company in Guelph, Ontario. I was tasked with managing about 50 long haul truck drivers, mapping their routes and facilitating efficient transportation of freight across North America. Considering that many of the drivers had been driving a truck longer than I had been alive and my performance on the job directly affected their income, the experience of such a work environment made the deferral worth it. The opportunity to interact with so many older Canadians on a daily basis changed my views. I formed a deep appreciation for Canadian society’s commitment to the fundamental principles of respect for the individual and acceptance of all.

 Afterwards, eight months before law school, I traveled to over 20 countries across Asia and Africa. I experienced amazing things like: seeing hundreds of thousands of zebras across the Serengeti plains; climbing an active volcano in the Philippines; riding a motorcycle across Vietnam; and making eye contact with a mountain gorilla in Uganda. There is no better way to prepare for law school than to dive with sharks, ride a bus across Ethiopia, climb Kilimanjaro and be shaken by the history of suffering in Cambodia. Traveling gave me the confidence to adapt to any situation that I encountered.

I returned to Halifax in 2012 and my first year of law school was fascinating. I was challenged more than I had anticipated and was in awe of how intelligent my friends and professors were. I realized early on that I would have to work harder than ever to excel in such an extraordinary environment.

At the end of my first year, I was elected the V.P. Finance for the Law Students’ Society, and have become increasingly passionate about doing something about the lack of diversity in the legal profession. This summer, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to summer at McInnes Cooper—the experience was incredible. My first summer experience on the East Coast was topped when I received my permanent immigration in July.

My path to law school has been a wild journey: from a terrified eight-year-old boy entering boarding school in the Himalayas to studying law here in Halifax. Without the unwavering support of my family, I would not even be capable of imagining some of my experiences. It has become impossible to look to the future with anything but wholehearted optimism. •