Aunty Gail Wallace, the first Aboriginal woman to study law at the University of Wollongong, has every right to feel proud for what has resulted by continuing to fight for justice for her people.
On Wednesday, Aunty Gail received an Honorary Doctorate from UOW for her outstanding contribution to the community, and for her leadership and advocacy on social justice issues.
"I feel very honoured to be here today and am proud of what I have achieved through being a strong and persistent advocate for my people," she said.
Aunty Gail, who graduated from UOW with a Bachelor of Laws in 1996, spoke during this week's spring graduation ceremonies.
Hundreds of students from across three faculties - Social Sciences; Law, Humanities and the Arts; and Science, Medicine and Health - will celebrate their academic and research achievements over three ceremonies on Wednesday and Thursday.
Aunty Gail, who grew up on an Aboriginal Mission at Orient Point on the NSW South Coast, never imagined a future in which she entered the world of academia or the law.
She enrolled at UOW in the early 1990s, 20 years after the Whitlam Government encouraged Aboriginal people to undertake tertiary studies.
"I actually met Gough Whitlam while I was at Wollongong University. he shook my hand and wished me all the best in my studies and said 'I hope that if anyone gets through, it will be you Gail," Aunty Gail said.
Her desire to study law was motivated by her deep need to help Aboriginal people, who were falling victim to a justice system that was deeply unfair.
Aunty Gail has since become an advocate for the Aboriginal community and was responsible for spearheading the introduction of Circle Sentencing, a groundbreaking program that introduced Aboriginal Elders to the court process with the aim of reducing jail time for Aboriginal offenders.
"This is the most revolutionary program for Aboriginal people I have ever heard of or came across," she said.
"For the first time in non-Aboriginal history our Aboriginal elders were given the authority within the criminal justice system or any system, to deal justly with their people who were offenders or victims."
The university's higher degree research was also acknowledged on Wednesday.
Dr Julie Keys, from the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, received her PhD on Wednesday.
Her thesis focused on the disparity in prestige between male and female writers throughout the past century.
As part of her postgraduate degree, Dr Keys wrote an acclaimed novel, The Artist's Portrait, which was published by Hachette this year and was shortlisted for the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers.
Chemistry PhD graduate Dr Andrew Montgomery pursued cancer research, aiming to develop compounds that would be able to prevent cancerous cells from spreading to secondary sites in the body or metastasising.
The research he undertook from 2015 to 2019 has laid the foundations for continuing cancer studies at UOW.