When I meet 18 year old Hannah Gandy, I am immediately greeted by her friendly and confident nature. As I soon discover, she also happens to be a very remarkable person.
Despite the challenges of her past, Hannah has achieved many incredible things.
“Coming from a single-parent, low socio-economic status family of three children, my mum had to work full time to make ends meet. As a result of difficult circumstances, at 13 years old I was enrolled in Year 8 at The Pavilion School,” says Hannah.
“This year, I am the first student from The Pavilion School to complete my Victorian Certificate of Education, receive an ATAR score and attend university.”
Hannah attended The Pavilion School, a Victorian State Secondary School for students who have struggled at or been excluded by other schools.
Not only was Hannah the first student from The Pavilion to successfully complete VCE, but she also completed the challenging La Trobe VCE Plus. This means that as part of her VCE, Hannah did two law subjects at La Trobe University – an impressive feat for any secondary school student.
Now, Hannah is off to La Trobe University to study a double degree in Law and Arts.
Hannah says she completed VCE at the Distance Education Centre Victoria.
“I did VCE subjects through Distance Education this year but I was still enrolled at The Pavilion School,” she says.
“I really liked doing Distance Ed. It allowed me to do so many things and still be able to prioritise my schoolwork, but not have to do it in a set period of time. I was able to go to work during the day and then come home at night and do my VCE work.”
The Pavilion School supported Hannah throughout her VCE experience and, according to Hannah, were “really good”.
“They really helped me a lot. They would supervise all my SACs [school-assessed coursework] for me. If I wanted any support, they would give it to me,” says Hannah.
Support would come in many forms, including “a teacher picking me up and driving me to exams – stuff like that”.
I ask Hannah whether she found this daunting, but she breezes over the difficult aspects of VCE as a hurdle she clearly was able to take into stride.
“There were a few challenges throughout the year, where I just had no time. But I just kept studying.”
“I did English, Legal Studies, Australian Politics, Health and Human Development and then I did my two law subjects through ‘VCE Plus’. They were my Year 12 subjects. I have maintained an average of ‘A’ in most subjects … [and] enjoyed every subject I have taken,” she says.
At The Pavilion, Hannah has set new standards in more than one way.
“This year I have had the incredible privilege of acting as my school’s first ever School Captain.”
Last year, Hannah decided to provide additional support to other students at The Pavilion by organising and running a peer support program.
“This included offering assistance to students undertaking all types of education including VCE, VCAL, and VET subjects,” she says.
“I help other students, assisting them to learn and talking to them about doing Distance Ed or whatever they want to do. I help students who are taking VCE subjects but are enrolled in VCAL at The Pavilion School.
“I encourage them to do their best as I see them becoming more engaged in their education… and I have formed strong relationships with these students. I have seen many of these students show significant signs of improvement, in both schoolwork and their outlook on life.
“My most cherished and important function is to act as a role model and mentor to current and future students.
“These students no longer feel like The Pavilion is the end of their journey but the one open door to endless opportunities.”
Hannah says this is similar to how she felt, thanks to the support of The Pavilion.
“I’d always like to give back to the community, with youth who have been in hard places… I really feel for them. I want other kids to see me and know that they can do that too. It doesn’t really matter where they’ve come from or that they’ve come from The Pavilion. They can have every opportunity,” says Hannah.
“The school has also seen a major increase in students enrolling in Distance Education subjects.”
Hannah received the excellent news that she had been accepted into La Trobe to study a Bachelor of Law/Arts. She says, “I’ll be doing law and I want to major in politics.”
Although law was initially not on Hannah’s mind, she decided to try the subject at school. Now, Hannah already has some real-world experience under her belt in this field.
“When I was at The Pavilion School, I wasn’t really interested in [law], but then one of my teachers said to me, you should take legal studies!
“I wasn’t sure of what subjects I wanted to take, so I took it. She [the teacher] would keep saying to me, you’re going to be a lawyer one day!
“I thought, no I’m not. That’s not what I want. Then, as soon as I began taking Legal Studies in Year 11, I absolutely loved it,” says Hannah.
“I took Australian Politics in Year 12 and became more interested in public service and was working at the Fair Work Commission. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in being a lawyer but was interested in studying law and in public service and politics.”
Hannah says that one of her teacher’s had a sister who worked at the Fair Work Commission who helped Hannah to secure a position there for work experience. Hannah was then asked to stay on at Fair Work as a clerk, working one day a week while at school and full-time during holidays. This is when Hannah’s interest in law became stronger.
“When they asked if I would keep working there, it was then that I started becoming more interested in pursuing it [law].
“This has been invaluable to my studies and assuring [me] what I want to do in my life.”
By studying two university subjects ahead of time through the VCE Plus program, Hannah feels that her transition to full-time study at La Trobe University will be “quite smooth”.
“I sort of know what it will be like. And because I did distance education, it [studying at uni] was quite similar to how I was studying anyway.”
When I ask Hannah about her experience doing two university subjects, she exudes modesty but it is impossible not to be impressed with the results she achieved.
In the two La Trobe law subjects that were part of VCE Plus, Hannah exceeded the expectations for most high school students attempting a university subject.
“I received high distinctions for [my] two university subjects … I also received the highest mark out of everyone for law in the program.”
Hannah offers some tips for other young people who are unsure of the path they want to follow.
“Take as many opportunities as you can and try to get as much experience as you can in the area, before you decide you do or don’t want to do it. I’d just say take every opportunity you can.”
Like any typical secondary school student, Hannah is relieved to be able to say “I finished exams on the 9th of November”.
Now with exams done, Hannah is focused on work and her other passions, including music.
“I play music casually at home with my brother. We play a few instruments, the guitar and keyboard. We have a music room set up and so I’m over there a lot just playing music. But other than that, I’m not doing much, just hanging out!”
Next on the agenda for Hannah is to “study next year at La Trobe, continue working and see what happens!”
With an extraordinary track record like Hannah’s, we are sure to be seeing amazing things from her, whatever she chooses to do.
Words: Annabelle Pendlebury
Photos: Jason Rohmursanto