'Every seat was taken'

The influence of General Sir John Monash

Hannah Gandy uses education to benefit the community

From left: Hannah Gandy, Major General James Edward Barry and David Polonsky from the Spirit of Australia Foundation at the 2023 Monash Commemorative Service.
From left: Hannah Gandy, Major General James Edward Barry and David Polonsky from the Spirit of Australia Foundation at the 2023 Monash Commemorative Service.

It was a packed house in the Legislative Assembly at Melbourne’s Parliament House when Hannah Gandy addressed the annual Monash Commemorative Service earlier this month.

“Every seat was taken, and the balcony was full of secondary school students,” Gandy said.

A 2022 Victorian government John Monash Scholar and a 2022 Rotary Global Grant Scholar for Community Economic Development, she spoke about how Monash’s character influenced and inspired her life.

Gandy talked about how Monash’s thirst for knowledge and a lifelong commitment to learning was instilled by a primary school teacher William Elliot when he was nine-years old living in outback New South Wales. Elliot helped ensure that Monash was provided with the best possible education.

“I had my own William Elliot,” she said.

At 14 years old she was enrolled at a school for young people excluded from mainstream education.

With a childhood scarred with homelessness, poverty and abuse, a typical educational environment didn’t work for her.

“My teacher taught me to believe in myself, and with her support, I became the first student from my school to ever finish VCE and attend university.

“Monash faced a lot of public attacks due to his faith and his German ancestry. Yet he overcame that adversity and persevered despite the criticism.

“This is something that strongly resonates with me as I work with young kids who are discriminated against every day,” Gandy said.

A passion for helping disadvantaged communities and people was the driver for Gandy to apply for the Monash Scholarship. “I wanted to be able to go overseas to complete a Master of Laws and specialising in social justice,” she said.

“I wanted to be empowered and gain more knowledge on ways that we can help to create a more equitable Australia through lifting up the rights of young people.”

In her work and personal life Gandy stands by the value Sir John Monash and the foundation puts forward of a commitment to learning and using one’s education to benefit one’s community.

In her speech Gandy said, “Monash shows us the importance of self-belief, especially when success is measured by one’s ability to uplift others and the community.

“This principle echoed throughout his life, from his wartime achievements to his subsequent roles. As vice-chancellor of Melbourne University and president of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, he advocated for learning that enriches not just oneself, but the entire community.

“Those principles reflect how I see my own journey.”

Gandy works at the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) as the senior liaison officer at the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program, which supports children without parents or guardians in the 10 to 17 age group in police custody across Victoria.

She sees young people enduring poverty, homelessness and marginalisation due to cultural backgrounds or disabilities, and young people burdened with the responsibilities of teenage parenthood or battling addiction or abuse each day at CMY.

She sees them navigate in and out of the justice system, access a meaningful education and live a life away from crime when supported by a caring and compassionate community.

But she is disheartened to see discrimination and exclusion in our society, particularly within the education and justice system.

However, she takes faith in how Monash’s leadership shows we can create an Australia where fewer people experience criticism and disadvantage, where education is accessible to all, and where we embrace the belief in giving back to our communities.

She said, “It was a real privilege as a Monash scholar to be able to give that talk.”

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