Rahul Shastri – Recipient of Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal; Honoured Member of the Bar in Ontario, Michigan and Georgia; Overlea/Marc Garneau Graduate.

Rahul Shastri has made a mark on the Canadian legal landscape with his prolific legal career, so much so that he was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 in recognition of his contributions to Canada. Over and above being the managing partner of his law firm, Kagan Shastri LLP, Rahul has always given of his time to give back to the community, be it as a member of the Canadian Bar Association and Advocates Society, as past Governor of the Holy Trinity School and past National Convenor of the Canada India Foundation or as a founding member of the Overlea Garneau Alumni Association. 

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Rahul about his career, time at Overlea and advice he would give to future graduates of Marc Garneau and here is what he had to say:

When were you at Overlea?

I was at Overlea from 1977 to 1982. It is so hard to fathom that so many years have passed. 

How did you end up going to Overlea?

My parents immigrated to Canada in 1974 and I ended up at Grenoble Public School. I was the new kid on the block, a little pudgy, with a British accent and bad teeth.  On that first day of school, I wore what kids wear in England to school – tie, proper shirt, Bermuda shorts, garters and shiny black shoes – so let’s just say, I had a very awkward first 6 months in Canada.  I ended-up at Overlea since I went to Grenoble, which is a feeder school for Valley Park, which in turn was a feeder school for Overlea.

How do you look back on high school? What words come to mind to represent that time? What was it like for you?

I really enjoyed my time at Overlea.  It was a really easy time in the late 70s and early 80s. I have very fond memories of my time at the school. I was fortunate enough to have met people who are still friends today. In fact, I met my future wife, Nita (Patel) at the school  – but she wouldn’t really have anything to do with me until Grade 13!  While I was there, the school generally had a very young faculty. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was important for the students as made it easy to relate faculty. The teachers were very involved;  they were fun. Teachers such as Clive Chamberlain, Marty Oslinger,  Ron Thorpe and Mark Whitcombe took us to overnight camp in Algonquin . It was the first time I’d been to Algonquin.  They introduced us to canoeing and night hikes and there were bonfires. Those were really special times. The teachers had real enthusiasm to do all these things. One of the most interesting teachers at the school was Greg Lang. He taught economics and accounting and told wonderful stories – he really made us laugh. He was a large personality but always there if a student was having difficulty.  It is fitting that he led the charge to found the Alumni Association together with students including Dawn Dickinson.  We had a spectacular math faculty (all before STEM was the buzz word).  Teachers such as Dom Di Felice and Mike Orlando were terrific teachers and are responsible for the school’s excellence in that area. 

What was the demographic like at Overlea when you were there?

We used to have International Night when I went there. There were well over 100 nationalities that were represented. It allowed you to learn about and appreciate different cultures because these were your classmates, people you saw every day.  It was a very multicultural school.

What kind of student were you while at Overlea? Were you very involved, were you the school nerd, the jock?

When I started out in grade 10, I wasn’t much involved.  I did push myself to try out for different teams and made the football team in Grade 11, much to Mike Reilly’s and my amazement. I was involved in student politics and got involved as a house rep.  When I left the school in grade 13 I was a Co-President of the school, together with Claudia Ferryman. 

Where did life take you after high school?

 I didn’t want to stay in Toronto as most of my graduating class did;  I ended-up going to Western. I did an undergraduate in Economics. I wouldn’t say that I was the most diligent student during my time at Western and that was a mistake. I always knew that I wanted to go to law school and I ended up after my time at Western doing an accelerated program in Commerce to get my mark-up substantially and eventually gained admission to law school in 1987. I went to law school at the University of Windsor where I was fortunate enough  to be able to do a contemporaneous dual US law degree at the University of Detroit. At the time Canada and the US were negotiating the Free Trade Agreement, so I thought it would be really interesting to get the dual degree. I worked very hard in law school but something happened in law school. In business school, there’s a right answer, but in law school, it aggravated me that there wasn’t a formulaic answer. I really enjoyed the education and by third year, it almost felt like I was on autopilot – you knew what you needed to know and how to present it.  When I graduated in 1990 I was ready to start my legal career.

How long have you been at your own firm?

I started my career at a large firm in Toronto.  There were well over 150 lawyers and I learned a lot from the people at that firm. In 1994, There were a couple of younger lawyers who were going out on their own and wanted to start their own firm. They wanted me to join them to head up their litigation practice. I was floored because I was only a year and a half out. So, I went home and discussed it with my wife, who, being the smart woman she is, said: “What’s the downside? If you flame out (not that you will), it’s not like you can’t go back to Bay Street and look for another job. You can get it out of your system so you don’t have to wonder “What if”. She was right and I haven’t looked back since.

What advice would you have for graduates of Garneau who are considering a career in law? Does that advice change for graduates who are more entrepreneurial and have an interest in business?

When you’re at Garneau, I think you should do what you can to get the best out of the 4 years that you have and that’s not just the books. That’s getting involved with the various clubs, sports teams, student governments, etc. Definitely get involved and don’t just focus on the marks because you need to be more than just the grades. 

One of the difficulties these days, is that students are so young when they graduate. Most of us were 19 when we finished grade 13.  Today, students are graduating at 17 or 18.  If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. It’s important to have a plan – you may not know specifically what you want to do but have a plan – have a broad curriculum so you’re not foreclosed and can keep your options open. Set goals – 1-year plan, 5-year plan, 10-year plan and so on. It’s a hard thing to do, especially at 16, when 10 years seems like a lifetime away, but it’s important.  Where there is an opportunity, seek out mentors.   People are generally generous with their time.

Keep in touch with your classmates – you never know where your classmates are going to end-up and who they’ll end up being. If you have good friends in high school, keep in touch with those friends. Maintaining those relationships takes work, despite it being easier to stay connected these days. 

If I had to give advice in terms of the path to success – if you get these three things right, you’ll be successful: 1. What you study; 2. Who you choose as your life partner; and 3. Who you choose to go into business with. You could screw up pretty well every other small decision, but if you get these three things right, you’ll do well, you’re going to be fine. 

Speaking of the Alumni Association, being someone, whose time is so stretched and valuable, what motivated you to get involved and getting the association off the ground?

I look at all the private schools and they’ve got donors and an alumni network, where you can tap into that network and bring others up, etc. I thought there was no reason why Overlea couldn’t have that. We had some very committed people who wanted to make this difference – I mean, Dawn and Greg are still there and involved. There are some fantastic people who went to the school and if you build that network, the school will just get stronger and it will be helpful for students that are there now, as well as students who’ve graduated from the school. Wouldn’t I love to hire a whip-smart graduate from Garneau into my law firm – that would be fantastic!

By: Melissa Krishna
Vice President, Overlea Garneau Alumni Association