Angelique Nelis is a firm believer that young people are leaders of today, not just the future.
This notion inspired her to apply for the Top100 Future Leaders Competition 2021. The final-year Bachelor of International Security Studies/Laws (Hons) student at The Australian National University (ANU) was recently named one of 15 national finalists for the Ashurst Law Award presented as part of the Top100 Future Leaders Competition.
Sponsored by graduate employment platform Grad Connection, The Australian Financial Review and employment agency Chandler Macleod, the Top100 Future Leaders Competition recognises leadership-driven students nationwide across various disciplines. It also gives students the opportunity to meet top employers and hone their application skills.
“It not only identifies future leaders, but it also highlights how active young people can be in the advocacy space,” Angelique said.
Committed to helping others
The importance of giving back to those less fortunate was instilled in Angelique early on. She spent family holidays volunteering at orphanages in India and, in high school, she launched a social campaign to support displaced children in war-torn Syria. She also represented the New South Wales Women’s Alliance in the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, a non-for-profit group that advocates and supports the advancement of girls’ education.
“A lot of time people say, ‘One person can’t make a change’. But if we all think that way, nothing is really going to happen,” she said.
“Even though I was 16 years old, I thought, ‘It’s better than doing nothing. It’s better than sitting there and watching the news.’ I wanted to try and do something.”
This vision led her to New York City in 2019 for the Change the World Model United Nations (CWMUN) program, and The Hague Academy of International Law in 2020 for the three-week intensive winter course.
Before flying to New York to represent Samoa as a CWMUN delegate, Angelique decided to maximise her learning by reaching out to the Samoan High Commissioner in Canberra, Her Excellency Ms Hinauri Petana, to learn more about the Pacific Island nation.
“I am always hungry to make the most out of opportunities,” she said.
To her surprise, Ms Petana agreed to meet with her and they discussed the impacts of climate change on Samoa.
Pursuing passions, effecting change
Armed with this newfound knowledge, Angelique collaborated with 300 delegates at CWMUN, led a coalition and was a co-author of the draft United Nations resolution discussing nuclear free-zones in the Pacific. The paper focused on multiple issues including the protection of the marine environment.
This experience deepened her passion for international law. The same year, she applied to be a scholar at The Hague Academy of International Law and was fortunate enough to make the trip in early 2020 before the pandemic began. There she met with International Court of Justice judges in one-on-one settings to talk about their shared passion for advocacy, visited various embassies and led a team in a 12-hour international crisis simulation.
Shortly after Angelique returned to Australia, she came across the Top100 Future Leaders Competition – a forum in which another ANU Law student, Harriet Wilson (BPPhilEc/LLB (Hons) ’20), excelled during 2020.
“As with my applications to the Change the World United Nations program or The Hague scholarship, I want to make the most out of myself. My mum always says, ‘Nothing goes without trying’, so I have been doing just that. I found this competition and thought I would put my best foot forward.”
Besides always trying, another piece of advice Angelique lives by is searching for opportunities that align with her passions and challenge her to be an agent for change.
“If you still haven’t found your passions, it is even more important to search for different opportunities and to broaden your scope. I found that a lot of the ways I can grow my passions is through taking on new electives at ANU because that gives me a feel of what that area is like,” Angelique said.
“At the end of your degree, you should be able to walk away feeling that you not only have done the academic component but you also sought unique opportunities that help you grow in other ways."
Applications for the 2021 Top100 Future Leaders Competition open later this year. See here for more info.