May 29, 2018
Class of 2018: Law grad's dreams take flight
Social responsibility award-winner Greg Whiteside is about to fulfil a childhood goal with pilot's licence.
As a kid, Greg Whiteside dreamed of becoming a pilot, not a lawyer. He didn’t know much about lawyers, only enough to know that his family didn’t have good experiences with them.
Now he is one, and he’s determined to make a difference.
He’s the 2018 winner of the University of Calgary law school’s Dean Michael Wylie Social Responsibility Award, an award given to a graduating student who has made a significant contribution to social or human rights issues while in school.
Whiteside, 31, graduates this spring with a law degree from the University of Calgary. He’ll then work at a firm in Calgary, focusing on environmental and regulatory law.
“It’s amazing, the variety of work. You could be focusing on the cost of cutting down your neighbour’s tree, and the next day, you’re dealing with a pipeline, or defending or prosecuting someone under criminal regulatory charges,” Whiteside says. “Every day is different. It’s something I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.”
Whiteside is certainly familiar with learning and helping others, part of the reason for his award. During his time at UCalgary, he helped launch the Health-Justice Partnership between Student Legal Assistance and the Calgary Urban Project Society. The first of its kind in Western Canada, the program aids people in overcoming poverty’s challenges by providing legal advice for medical, housing and family programming. It’s now part of the Student Legal Assistance’s clinical coursework.
“I wanted to help people overcome obstacles and challenges, really help people who needed the help,” Whiteside says.
That desire is something he’s had since he was a child. Born in the Eastern Townships, Que., Whiteside lived in Whitehorse, Yukon, and then Barrie, Ont., where he graduated from high school.
It wasn’t the easiest time. His dad died when Whiteside was 18, and his mom when Whiteside was 22.
Some would let grief pull them down, but Whiteside simply credits his parents for his success in life. “I was always inspired by what my mom did and how much she cared,” he says. “And my love for the environment and the outdoors comes from my dad.”
After their deaths, Whiteside — who speaks four languages — completed a history degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., studying in Spain and Germany as part of the program.
He then moved back to Whitehorse, where he worked as a guide for seven years. Dogsledding, canoeing, rafting, rock climbing — he did a little of everything.
“But developing relationships is tough because you’re gone most of the year,” he says. “I knew I wanted a different lifestyle.”
He looked around for a university that offered programs he was interested in, but would allow him to be outdoors as much as possible. “The University of Calgary was the only real option,” he says. “It allowed me to get out to the mountains easily, plus it had the kind of law I was interested in.”
From the get-go, Whiteside stood out. “Greg was an enthusiastic student. I could always count on him to ask mature and practical questions that generated lots of discussion,” says Rudiger Tscherning, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law. “He is a natural at generating conversations and bringing people together.”
Martin Olszynski, also an assistant professor in the law faculty, has similar praise. “He was genuine, kind and eager to learn and share his knowledge,” Olszynski says. “I very much look forward to watching his career develop in the coming years.”
Whiteside’s dreams are taking flight — literally. “I’m doing my pilot’s licence now, too,” Whiteside says with a laugh. “That’s my homage to my younger self.”