Helena Rickards, of Red Deer, will start classes at Harvard Law School this fall. (Photo contributed)

Helena Rickards, of Red Deer, will start classes at Harvard Law School this fall. (Photo contributed)

Former Red Deer student is off to Harvard Law School

Psychology student hopes to reform justice system

Helena Rickards’ international studies at the University of Glasgow were cut short due to the pandemic.

But now the former Red Deer student is Boston bound to Harvard Law School.

The University of Calgary psychology student, who applied to six law schools, said she couldn’t pass up such an amazing opportunity when she heard she was accepted at the prestigious institution.

“It was my interviewer who called me, not an admissions officer. I assumed she just called me to politely tell me I was rejected,” said Rickards, 21.

“It was just shocking,” she said about her acceptance. “I really couldn’t form sentences.”

She said competition at post-secondary schools was even stiffer than usual this year because of deferrals from 2020 which reduced available spots, and the number of students who put their educational plans on hold last year and were returning to academia.

But she wholeheartedly encourages students to pursue their ivy-league aspirations.

“Everyone should apply. They look for such diverse things. Whatever you have in your resume is probably of interest to them.”

Besides maintaining a 4.0 GPA, Rickards studied ballet for many years and was invited to join programs with the Boston Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and Radio City Rockettes.

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Rickards said she is considering a career in criminal law with a focus on reforming the justice system and/or prison system to recognize those struggling with mental health issues. Often the system criminalizes mental illness.

“I really enjoyed abnormal psychology and clinical psychology, looking at disorders and how they impact people. A lot of our prison system is lacking mental health care for people,” she said.

For her thesis, Rickards wrote about the interactions between the black community and the criminal justice system in Calgary, which also looked at system reform.

“I was able to interview criminal lawyers and police officers and black activists to get perceptions of how the Black Lives Matter movement changed Calgary and how reforms are being undertaken and not being undertaken, and who’s being included in the discourse.”

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Helena’s parents, Christopher Rickards and Donna Purcell, are both Red Deer lawyers.

Purcell said her daughter’s admission into Harvard almost makes her cry.

“To see that she would have the opportunity to do something like that. It was a dream I could never even have. We are excited for her,” Purcell said.

“Harvard Law is where they want you to change the world.”



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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