Bronze medallist recognizes her family’s role in her success

Elisa Genuis learned to marvel at the world’s wonders from a young age

Helen Metella - 16 June 2020

Many a law school graduate is grateful for their family’s support during their schooling but Elisa Genuis, this year’s bronze medallist at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, deeply appreciates what her parents and husband did for her long before she entered the field of law.

Her father, an electrical engineer, always “took it for granted that I could pick up whatever he taught me,” says Genuis, recalling that when she was in Grade Six she made a simple inquiry about the circumference of a sphere and he promptly taught her concepts from calculus.

Her mother, a graphic designer who left her career to raise four daughters, led her children almost daily on field trips into the natural world near their home at Cooking Lake, east of Sherwood Park.

“I was fortunate that both parents modelled a sense of wonder at the world,” says Genuis, who credits being awarded the prize for third-highest academic standing throughout her JD program with the passion for learning her parents instilled in her.

“I have a wonder about life, I love people and I want to understand things — it doesn’t really matter what they are.”

Her boyfriend-now-husband, Fraser Genuis, ‘16 JD, first piqued her interest in law when he was competing for the Gale Cup at UAlberta Law and speaking eloquently about his studies in international law with Professor Joanna Harrington.

During the second year of Genuis’s undergrad, he had already suggested she take the LSAT, but she didn’t do so until she'd obtained a bachelor of arts with distinction, majoring in politics, history and economics, from the King’s University in Edmonton, and spent a semester at Oxford University.

Other Influences

Genuis traces the knack for analysis and advocacy that she practised throughout her three years of law school to her pre-teens.

When she was 11 and 12 years old, Genuis’s family lived in Belize, where she overcame her fear of water, studied with Belizeans and children of expatriate families from around the world, and observed the clash of poverty and privilege that impressed upon her a desire to understand people’s fundamental needs.

In addition to attaining a 3.7 GPA in first year and a 3.97 GPA in second year, Genuis invested herself in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. She was on the editorial board of the Alberta Law Review, an executive member of the Runnymede Society, a member of the Sexual Assault Liaison Committee and of the Women’s Law Forum Kindred House Committee, and volunteered with Student Legal Services.

She also worked part-time as a writing fellow with the Faculty’s Legal Research and Writing program, and as a research assistant for Professor Malcom Lavoie.

Outside of law school, she was the president of the Christian Legal Fellowship’s chapter at UAlberta and a board member of the Electoral District Association for a federal political party.

For a long time, she kept those last two activities mostly to herself, because she didn't want her classmates to make negative assumptions about her. She’s since realized that holding views that aren’t always commonplace in law school honed her advocacy skills tremendously.

“It enabled me to learn who your audience is, what it is they care about and then to take it seriously,” she says.

“In doing that, going inside someone’s head to find out where (their ideas) come from, I gained important insights into how to communicate my ideas. You can meet them there and perhaps prompt them to entertain an alternate point of view that they might have been closed to.”

Genuis will take those skills and her passion for embracing new information to a judicial clerkship with the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, starting in August. She will complete her articles with Alberta Justice and Solicitor General in 2021.

She is thankful to be the bronze medal recipient, but during the period when she thought her busy schedule in third year might have put her out of the running, she challenged herself to reflect on why her marks meant so much to her and determined that, “it’s really exciting (to win), but it would not define me.”

She also thought about the single mothers she saw going through law school and decided “we’re celebrating academic achievement and that’s great, but I want people to know who don’t get these accolades that their efforts have been just as important and truly much more remarkable because of their circumstances.”