My Story — Student Voice: Hannah Gandy
Arts/Law student Hannah Gandy has been widely commended for academic and personal achievements unprecedented among her peers, and for her commitment to helping students who are facing challenging circumstances.
Despite having fallen a long way behind in high school, Hannah was supported by The Pavilion School and La Trobe University and is now inspiring others to engage with higher education and to strive for their goals.
I was the first ever student to graduate from my high school with a Victorian Certificate of Education. Now in my fourth year of Law/Arts at La Trobe University, it’s so rewarding to see how my positive influence has inspired self-belief in other students from similar backgrounds to my own.
I’m committed to helping young people engage with higher education and showing them that it doesn’t matter what background you come from, if you have suffered disadvantage or gone to a school that is not seen as prestigious. What matters is that you dedicate yourself in contributing to the things you are passionate about.
I grew up in Melbourne, attending three high schools before I was enrolled at The Pavilion School in Preston, which caters for students who have been disengaged or excluded from mainstream education. Whilst completing Years 11 and 12, I was attending both The Pavilion School and the Distance Education Centre Victoria.
I missed a lot of high school between Years 7 and 10. When I got to Year 11 (of my Victorian Certificate of Education) I had fallen so far behind and had to study a lot more than other students to catch up. But, with the guidance of my teachers, I completed a range of Year 11 and 12 subjects including mathematics, music style and composition, automotive, health and human development and legal studies.
I was also given the opportunity to study two university-level law subjects at La Trobe University through the VCE PLUS program. I valued the supportive environment through VCE PLUS and really felt like I was working towards something. As a result, I realised I wanted to go to university and, due to my marks in the program, I obtained an offer for my chosen degree prior to completing Year 12.
I was made aware of the Aspire program by The Pavilion School’s career’s counsellor, Andrew Zarafa. He worked very closely with all of the students and knew about the positive things I was doing for my school, such as running peer support programs and taking the role of School Captain. He helped by explaining the program and the best pathways into university for me.
My ATAR did not meet the Clearly-in for La Trobe University’s law program, but I have still maintained a High Distinction grade average and continued to benefit people through my work internal and external to the university. It’s important to provide people who want to make a change the avenues to do so, and Aspire has really helped me to do that.
I also think programs like Aspire are extremely beneficial for the community as a whole. They recognise that although someone might fall below a specific number in obtaining their ATAR, they may have the drive to make a really big impact in their community.
I have benefitted from other La Trobe support initiatives including the La Trobe Hallmark Program through which I have conducted studies at local flexible learning schools on the re-engagement strategies and their impact on students from disadvantaged cohorts. I am also supported by the Elite Athlete program and am currently ranked second in Australian women’s freestyle slalom and will be representing Australia this July at the World Roller Games in Barcelona.
Giving back to my community is important to me; I have worked with a range of schools and young people through La Trobe’s School Partnership Program, worked with youth through Banyule Council, and a range of other programs.
Among my most significant achievements was receiving the Order of Australia Foundation Scholarship, which helped me to recognise I was having a positive impact on my community. It’s also been important to me that I take time for myself to do other things such as sporting activities, involving young people by teaching classes, and further networking.
From a policy perspective, I believe we need positive leaders to be voices for student opportunity. Support for flexible learning schools such as The Pavilion School and programs that introduce students to university is crucial for wider community benefit; many students from disadvantaged backgrounds grow up with skills and desires to help others who have come from similar backgrounds.
I also think more support and participation programs could be targeted towards flexible learning schools with disadvantaged cohorts. La Trobe’s School Partnerships Program does so, but I would like to see extended programs running over a series of weeks that introduce students to different areas of study at university and TAFE.
It’s so heart-warming to see that I have been a positive role model and have helped influence a lot of students. I remember being on a school camp with The Pavilion School and we were playing a word game with cards. A student was asked what inspired her in her career and life goals and she said me (and then I cried!). Another example was a student that I used to get the bus with. He would always tell me that he never wanted to do anything, and I could tell that he was struggling to believe in himself. Before I left the school, he was asked a question in a media interview and he said, “I could do anything now, I could even be a lawyer”. He always thought I wanted to be a lawyer and I knew then that I had been a positive role model for him.
Right now, I’m not 100 per cent sure on what my ‘job’ will be; I’m really open to doing a range of things that help young people. I’m just continuing to focus on doing the most I can in the moment and taking opportunities that I think will have the best impact.
Read more inspiring stories of student success here.