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With the bar set high, law student achieves University Medal for graduation


Sharlene King
15 May 2015
Zoe Hunter, a high school teacher and mother of three, is set to receive the University Medal when she is awarded a Bachelor of Laws (1st Class Honours) at the Southern Cross University graduation ceremonies on Saturday May 16.

The completion of the law degree marks a career change for the highly motivated student who comes from a family of teachers.

Zoe will be one of 245 students celebrating the completion of their studies at two ceremonies in the Whitebrook Theatre at the Lismore campus.

Zoe was the first choice for the University’s School of Law and Justice when the high profile Magistrate David Heilpern was seeking an associate in the Lismore Local Court.

“As a judge’s associate for my work placement, I was David’s gopher, researcher, proofreader and drafter. I had a four-month-old daughter (my third child) at the time and I had just returned to work as a teacher, but I made it work because it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Each case, no matter how trivial or severe, starts in the local court so I got to hear everything, from the seemingly mundane to really serious criminal cases. Other cases were interesting and challenging from a legal perspective. I would have to investigate legislation and how that legislation was being interpreted by the practitioners, and how David was going to interpret it and apply it to a particular case. Because I was on the bench I got to read the facts, affidavits and evidence. It was fascinating.”

Magistrate Heilpern was full of praise for Zoe.

“Zoe is an extraordinary student of law, with that ever-so-rare combination of compassion and legal knowledge. I am sure she will have a bright future in the law, and bring honour upon the School of Law and Justice wherever she chooses to work,” he said.

Zoe has just rounded off her work placement with solicitor Steve Bolt in Lismore.

“I’ve been doing a lot of learning, listening and watching as I follow Steve around. He has offered me a part-time position until the end of the year while I wrap-up teaching,” said Zoe.

The Lennox Head resident said she was proud of her achievements.

“I surprised myself with the grades I achieved (a High Distinction average). I was really amazed because I came to the degree knowing nothing, absolutely nothing, about law,” Zoe said.

“When I started getting really good marks, I started looking into Honours, and then I worked out what I needed to do to get 1st Class Honours and then with the help of my lecturers I started to look at what I needed to do to get the University Medal.

“For me it was like baby steps. Each time I set a new goal for myself. Along the way, my lecturers were like mentors. I didn’t want to let them down so that became a motivating factor, too, along with not letting my husband or father (a primary school principal) down either.”

Long term, Zoe has set her sights high.

“I would like to work with the International Criminal Court in about 20 years when my kids have grown up,” Zoe said.

The first graduation ceremony will be held from 10am, followed by a second ceremony at 1pm.

Students from across the University’s Schools, Colleges and Research Centres will graduate, with six graduands to be awarded a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) and three awarded a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration).

Awards will be conferred by the Chancellor Mr Nick Burton Taylor AM (10am) and the Deputy Chancellor John Shanahan (1pm).

Ceremony details:

10am ceremony
School of Business and Tourism; School of Education; School of Environment, Science and Engineering; SCU College; Southern Cross GeoScience; and Southern Cross Plant Science.

Occasional Address by Clarence Valley Mayor, Cr Richie Richardson. Cr Richardson was elected to the Clarence Valley Council in 2005. Three years later he was re-elected, becoming Mayor at the same election, a position he has held since. Cr Richardson has been working as a radio broadcaster based in Grafton since 1991, and he can still be heard on the radio each weekday morning.

1pm ceremony
School of Arts and Social Sciences; Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples; School of Health and Human Sciences; and School of Law and Justice

Occasional Address by Commonwealth Games gold medallist, netballer and solicitor, Liz Ellis AM. Ms Ellis is one of the most respected names in netball. During her remarkable 18-year elite career she won two Commonwealth Games gold medals, three World Championships, four National League titles, four Most Valuable Player awards and an Australian record of playing 122 Test matches. She holds a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws from Macquarie University. She was admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of NSW and practised property and infrastructure law with Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
Photo: Zoe Hunter.