Hannah Dawson will take centre stage tomorrow at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law graduation when she receives the prestigious University Medal. It seals a memorable journey for the Bachelor of Laws (Hons) graduand, who once aspired to a different spotlight.
“I always wanted to be an actress and pursued that overseas for a couple of years before starting at ANU, but felt it wasn’t quite stimulating enough – or in the right way. Law seemed like the logical choice to study based on my interests, but I really just fell into it,” says Hannah.
“I don’t feel like any of my prior experience acting was ever wasted, because law also draws on that performative element and the ability to convey a message persuasively.”
The University Medal recognises students who have obtained First Class Honours (or Masters Advanced Equivalent) and demonstrated exceptional academic excellence across their studies.
Hannah will be joined by two ANU College of Law postgraduate students – Maaike York and Christopher Skoglund, both Juris Doctor graduands – in receiving the University Medal at the 12 December 2019 graduation ceremony.
For Hannah, the medal validates “an awful lot of hard work and sacrifice” over the past four-plus years.
Nevertheless, it still came as a big surprise.
“I was blown away when I saw the email saying I had won. Less than a week earlier our marks had been released for the semester, and I had been so nervous after submitting my research thesis,” recalls the Canberran.
Among the University professors who influenced Hannah’s studies were two eminent constitutional law scholars: the late Emeritus Professor Michael Coper AO, FAAL, the College’s longest serving Dean (1998-2012); and Professor James Stellios FAAL, who supervised Hannah’s research thesis.
Her thesis explored the operation of sections 79 and 80 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth), and how they pick up and apply State laws in federal jurisdiction in cases involving an interstate element – particularly following the High Court’s decision in Rizeq v Western Australia (2017) 262 CLR 1, which altered the accepted understanding of how s 79 operates.
Hannah’s curiosity in this area of scholarship was sparked in Conflict of Laws (LAWS4212), a course rich in the “intellectual stimulation” that initially attracted her to study law.
“Normally, my experience had been if I read the cases and paid attention I could follow. But the Court’s decision in Rizeq was too hard; my notes were full of question marks and I didn’t understand what was going on,” she says.
“So, I decided to work it out in the form of a thesis.”
Hannah Dawson (LLB (Hons) '19) is one of three ANU College of Law graduands to receive the University Medal at the December 12 2019 graduation ceremony.
With a law degree and University Medal to her name, Hannah now looks forward to the next step after ANU. In 2020, she will enter the graduate program at the Canberra office of multinational law firm King & Wood Mallesons.
And, in the spirit of acting, she isn’t limiting herself to any fixed role as a legal professional.
“I have loved constitutional law, but I’m also looking forward to getting a taste of private and commercial law. I think I could enjoy lots of different areas, so I’m happy to wait and see where I land,” she says.
“I’m really proud of myself and excited to tackle law as a profession. What I’ve gained over these past years is the confidence that I can do this – and might even be good at it,” she laughs.
Words and pictures by Tom Fearon/ANU