Laurier Grads Soar is a multi-part series that has returned for the 2017-18 year. The segment features former Wilfrid Laurier University athletes and student-leaders in the Athletics and Recreation Department, and the success they have enjoyed since leaving Laurier. Written by award-winning journalist David Grossman, different features will be released throughout the year that will emphasize the role Athletics and Recreation played in helping them achieve success.
Joe Vernon: Lawyer, Miller Canfield
Confidence can come from within and Joe Vernon knows all about it.
“When I played football at Laurier, I was this shy guy, intimidated and missing some of that self assurance,” he said. “Things certainly have changed – especially once I was aware of my abilities and determination to do well.”
As a youngster and a multi-sport athlete during his high school days at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College, Vernon wanted to be a professional hockey player. But he realized, that was more of a dream than a reality.
Choosing to attend Wilfrid Laurier University was a priority for him knowing the outstanding reputation of the school in education and sports. His extra-curricular focus had also switched from the ice rink to the gridiron.
It was in Year One, that Vernon made a very strong and competitive football team, worked hard, but never dressed for a game. Featured in a newspaper story in Year Two, the competition was so fierce that he again watched from the sidelines.
Vernon never would give up. He was in uniform and benefitted from amazing experiences when Laurier played in consecutive Yates Cup championships, but he never did catch a pass as a Golden Hawk.
“It was tough, but knowing there were some great athletes and I was somewhat reticent, bashful and withdrawn, I did get to play on special teams,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories were the road trips, the training sessions and the downtime in the dressing room with the guys.”
Disappointments seemed to motivate Vernon and it was in the final year of Laurier’s Business school, in a fourth year Communications for Managers class, that Vernon felt this inspirational moment – one that would trigger ideas for a career in law.
“That class was a game-changer for me and changed my life,” said Vernon. “The folks at Laurier were great – something I will never forget. I had a Professor who convinced me that I had a unique ability to connect with people.
“That confidence in my ability to speak publicly was huge. Any experience with intimidation had gone, it was like I just crawled out of a shell.”
It was during the year, in which he would eventually graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration (Honors) degree, that Vernon had made up his mind about the next stage of his life.
Several months later, and with his Laurier degree, he was in the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor and border-crossing studying in the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Surprisingly, he even found time to play football and the amazing experience included scoring a touchdown for the Windsor university squad.
Fast forward and Vernon, often recalling “those wonderful times at Laurier”, lives with his family in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills and works for the international firm of Miller Canfield Law – one of the top legal firms in Michigan.
His duties fall under commercial and business litigation, and is in state and federal courts across the United States. Vernon’s expertise and advice bodes well in a sports and entertainment practice, handling negotiations for athletes and entertainers.
“Getting ready for a legal hearing is like getting ready for a (football) game – lots of work, practice, and it’s very rewarding,” said Vernon, who has served as an Adjunct Legal Writing Professor at Detroit Mercy Law School.
David Grossman is a veteran award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 40+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.