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Scholarship provides bridge to refugee’s big dreams
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Scholarship provides bridge to refugee’s big dreams

Financial scholarships helped Nyadol Nyuon, a refugee from South Sudan, realise a long-held dream with her admission as a lawyer in Victoria last month.

The 29-year-old, who now works in the Melbourne office of Arnold Bloch Leibler, shared her journey to Australia and into her chosen profession.

“The scholarships not only made a difference, but they actually made it possible for me to study law. I would like to think that I grabbed any opportunity I got and attempted to get the best out of it. However, I was only able to do so because of the generosity of many people who have supported me since arriving in Australia in 2005,” Ms Nyuon said. 

The newly minted lawyer was speaking at the launch of the Cheryl Saunders Scholarship Fund, which was established by the University of Melbourne to support students facing financial barriers who share Ms Nyuon’s dream to one day become a lawyer.

As a child in a Kenyan camp of almost 90,000 refugees, the gusty and determined Ms Nyuon dared to believe her future would unfold exactly as she planned it.

Ms Nyuon’s family fled their home in South Sudan when she was five during the civil war, but despite the hardship of her earlier life, she knew would one day become a lawyer.

It was at a cramped desk shared with three other classmates in a school in a North Kenyan refugee camp where Ms Nyuon’s legal ambitions first sparked.

During the lunch breaks, we had long debates on politics and whether or not we would ever go back home to South Sudan. It was during these debates that I was told, and even warned, that my dreams were big and impossible for a refugee and too ambitious for a woman. Of course, I did not listen. I had another plan,” Ms Nyuon said.

“What [the Cheryl Saunders] scholarship symbolises and represents, is the possibility that another child, in another refugee camp, with a big impossible dream may be able to make their big impossible dream come true.”

The young refugee won several scholarships, giving her the opportunity to earn a law degree after she was resettled with her family in Australia in 2005. That achievement unleashed aspirations to aim even higher.

“At university, I was changed in many ways. I was pushed to believe that excellence was within my reach no matter where I came from. When visiting lecturers and distinguished visitors would declare that among us were future High Court judges and the leaders of tomorrow, [I was shocked]. Those confident expectations never crossed my path as a child,” Ms Nyuon said.

“Law school was an experience that challenged many assumptions, some of which I didn’t realise that I had come to embrace and accept without question. One of these was that it was acceptable – maybe even expected – that I would accept the cards I had been dealt, that I would settle for less and that it was ok to do so,” she said.

While studying at the University of Melbourne, Ms Nyuon was a recipient of three scholarships – the Eleanor and Joseph Wertheim Scholarship, a refugee bursary from the Ormond College and the Sir Ian McLennan Award. The financial assistance paid for her living and study expenses. Ms Nyuon was admitted as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of Victoria last month.

“Without this financial support, it is unlikely that I would have graduated, I would not have been admitted to the legal profession, and clearly, I would not be standing before you all today,” she said.

Before starting her job at Arnold Bloch Leibler, Ms Nyuon previously worked as a research assistant for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and served in various leadership and support programs for refugees in Victoria.

Nyadol Nyuon and Cheryl Saunders
Nyadol Nyuon pictured (left) with Professor Cheryl Saunders at Melbourne University

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