A former US reality television star and a human rights advocate working with the Clooney Foundation for Justice are among almost 600 students graduating from Southern Cross University today.
Simon van Kempen, the husband of original Real Housewives of New York City cast member Alex McCord, will graduate with a Bachelor of Laws. He plans to expand his and brother Adam’s Tweed Heads-based law firm.
Simon and his family have been living in Australia since 2014, following a 30-year international business career and including the first four seasons of Real Housewives of New York City.
“I’ve been practising as a licensed conveyancer since 2017, so while my day to day work won’t change that much, it will be great to be able to work in other areas of law,” he says.
“I planned to study law after finishing high school, but started working part-time in luxury hotels to support my studies. That took me on a career path that culminated in spending 13 years in London and then 16 years in New York, most of which was spent working in the luxury hotel sector.”
Simon says that while life in Northern NSW-South East Queensland comes at a much different pace than New York, he loves it here.
“Alex and I love getting to HOTA (Home of The Arts) on the Gold Coast for opera and other theatre. It actually compares quite well to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a favourite go-to venue of ours in NYC,” he says.
Also graduating with a Bachelor of Laws is mature age student, and mother-of-10, Meekehleh Deserio, an author and freelance journalist turned human rights advocate.
Since finishing her studies in June, Meekehleh has assisted the Clooney Foundation for Justice — run by Amal and George Clooney — as a court monitor. The group advocates for justice through accountability for human rights abuses around the world.
Meekehleh admits she didn’t expect a response to her application to the Foundation, so was surprised and thrilled to be accepted so quickly.
“With just three days notice I was on the plane to another country to attend a court case,” she says.
“My role was to keep an eye on due process and ensure it was run fairly from a human rights point of view.
“The criminal trial is still continuing and I’ve been asked to return to assist the Foundation, which is definitely something I plan to do again in the future.
“It was the best experience ever and I would do it 100 times over.”
After raising her children, working in various health roles and a stint as an interior designer, Meekehleh says she decided to study law “to make a difference”.
Today (November 29) Meekehleh and Simon will be part of the 11.30am graduation ceremony at Southern Cross University’s Gold Coast campus. They will join 580 students and six PhD students who will graduate in various ceremonies throughout the day.
All graduation ceremonies are live streamed.
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