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A Double Degree in Life and (Self-)Love

A Reflection on our time at Monash University

Lilly Walsh

Almost exactly six years and three months ago, I arrived in the big wide city to start my new life at the hallowed halls of Monash Residential Services. (I know this because Facebook memories recently presented to me a photo my mum posted of the day I arrived, wide eyed and clutching a big peace lily that would shortly afterward die in my care.) I’d aced my VCE, gotten into my first Uni preference, and was relocating from the country to the city. Things were pretty good for young little Lil.

Within the first few weeks of starting my degree, I’d failed to enroll in my minor, forgot to sit an online test for Foundations of Law, sprained my ankle at the club and cried because I missed my mum. Oops.

Slowly (very slowly), over the coming years I managed to get my shit together more. I took notes, made to-do lists and blu-tacked monthly planners to my wall. I changed minors a few times and I don’t think I missed another online test (a compulsory one, at least…).

My Arts/Law degree taught me a huge array of skills and gave me so many opportunities that I should probably be a promo girl for Monash. After six years, yeah, I have a Bachelor of Laws (honours, if I may…) and a Bachelor of Arts (double degree! Please, no biggie) under my belt, but I also have multiple years of workplace experience in public and private law. I was a residential advisor for 12 months, liaising with national charities and politely forcing my friends to participate in the events I organised. I was a law ambassador and worked with a group of incredibly intelligent women. I did a couple of internships - one interviewing and networking with super impressive Monash Arts alumni in a variety of career paths, and another in a community legal centre, helping differently abled Melbournians access the law. I studied in Sonipat, India, and learnt about the Indian legal system, culture and history (and the FOOD!)

I know this is starting to sound like my CV, but I really am enormously grateful for the experiences Monash afforded me. But it was also bloody hard! I was exhausted and anxious for much of my degree. I worked my butt off to juggle everything. At times I felt incredibly alone and isolated from my friends and family. Other times I felt frustrated and unsupported by my faculty. During the final two years of my degree, it was feeling like a means to an end - just get through this I thought. This disengagement was undoubtedly exacerbated by the fact we were studying remotely during the weird COVID years.

There were obvious highs and lows during my uni experience. It’s hard for me to separate my education at Monash from my growth from a teenager to a young adult. Across six years, I learnt about torts, contracts and trusts; I learnt how to do legal research, pinpoint citations, take lightning-fast lecture notes and cram for an exam. But I also learnt how to soak pasta sauce out of a white shirt, how to submit an insurance claim after crashing my first car, and how to serve a breach of duties notice on a shitty landlord.

I am a mosaic of all the people I came to know and love during my Uni years. I learnt how to blend my eyeshadow from Jesse, I learnt how to pose for an Insta pic from the candid kween herself, Lucinda. Tess taught me to score free burritos from GYG and to take advantage of their jalapeno and salsa station. I learnt how to make the most out of a Prahran market vege haul from Belle and how to wing my eyeliner from Edwina. Ailish taught me how to layer my skincare and convinced me to spend well above my means for vitamin C serum. Yeeyee and her mum taught us how to fold dumpling wrappers and dye them green with spinach.

There was also the Big Stuff. These women picked up my pieces after mental health spirals, break-ups, and career crises. Luc and Belle breathed with me through panic attacks and Yeeyee showed me how to find the best therapist. All of them supported and loved every shade of me.

I truly would not be the person I was today if it weren’t for Monash University. For all the experiences it gave to me, the knowledge I gained, but above all, for the people I met along the way.

Talani Cooke

When I was five years old, if I couldn’t be the next Avril Lavigne punk popstar, I wanted to go to university. What I wanted to study changed like the seasons – law, arts, history, creative writing, anthropology, archaeology…. It didn’t matter. I wanted to be walking around campus (picture those fall trees you see in just about every US college movie), drinking coffee, shamelessly and unabashedly discussing pretentious things with my “university” friends. It was no secret I didn’t fit in at high school, I consumed books like episodes of Friends or How I Met Your Mother. I kept largely to myself. And I repeated the mantra “my time will come… at university.”

This rhetoric remained the same during VCE. I bought clothes that would be my “uni clothes.” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” became my favourite play in literature because it was set at an after-dinner party at a university and gosh how cool are American colleges. I stressed about whether I would get into “the uni” of my choice and whether I wanted Law at Monash or Creative Writing at Melbourne to be my first preference. I pondered how much the university needed to look like Hogwarts for this university dream to become a reality.

In the end, I got into Monash University in a Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Arts by the skin on my teeth - it was the best day of my life (So far). Any other year my score would have been under the lowest entry point for law but in 2015 the VCAA Scaling Gods were ever in my favour. So I made it - by 0.05 - and on an equity access scholarship.

I thought I was going to shine like Willow Rosenberg did in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when she first set foot on the UC Sunnydale campus… but in reality, my experience resonated much more with Buffy’s. There were so many people from all kinds of walks of life, who had already done such amazing things, I couldn’t help but feel consumed and inferior in just about every light.

For some reason, I had developed this idea that I would meet all my friends in my first week and these friendships would remain for the entire duration of my six-year course (and the rest of my life… we were going to have family dinners and games nights for goodness’ sake!). Instead, I quickly realised I was out of my league. Coming from a public outer suburb high school I found I was already at a social disadvantage at law school. I’ll never forget on intro night some Mr suit-y-suit telling me we couldn’t chat because he had to go “network.” Or the girl in my property lecture who told me it was really “resilient” of me to work in retail… My “uni top” from Dotti suddenly felt like it didn’t fit quite right. For many years, I preferred my own company - eating my lunch in my car - was a regular occurrence even in the final week of my course.

It didn’t happen quite like I imagined, but in the end I made some really good and lifelong friends from university. One in first-year crim when we bonded over the ridiculousness of the law school crowd that acted like mooting was life or death and for future lawyers. The other, I met in second year, and funnily enough, wouldn’t be writing this piece if they weren’t in my life today – the other half of ITS. These people are of the life-long friend variety.

The thing is, things never happen the way we think they will.

In my third year, I decided to drop my Arts degree entirely. After trying a variety of majors and minors - ranging from urban studies to holocaust studies and literature to history - I realised that my true passion remained with the law. I didn’t need to study writing to become a writer.

And that comes to the next part – I already kinda miss university.

I like how the person who started university six years ago has transformed molecularly and mentally into the person I am today. I miss hiding in the library and doing the extra readings for fun. And how the kinds of people I idolised transformed from pop stars to superheroes of the academic kind - the kind of hall of fame I wanted to join - and got to, when I co-authored a piece of deepfake image abuse with two professors I admired last year. I loved getting opportunities to tutor and run seminars on subjects ranging from contracts to evidence law - and getting a scholarship to study security for costs applications at the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation. And getting to push for legal reform through my Honours Thesis which aimed to criminalise stealthing (non-consensual removal of condoms during intercourse).

In a weird way Monash did very much become my Hogwarts - even if it didn’t quite look like a castle.

I didn’t realised that when five-year-old me wanted to go to university she knew down to the bone-marrow what she wanted to do all along – be a professor. And importantly a professor who brings pop culture to the law (hello social media my legal-issue-causing-inclined friend).

So thank-you Monash, for taking a chance on this Access Kid - I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can - I have to figure some Life Stuff out first.


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