Meet Danielle – a remarkable and tenacious Spirit Foundation Alumnus who matriculated from Immaculata Girls’ High in 2014. Danielle excelled academically throughout high school and was placed on the Western Cape Education Department’s Merit List for the 2014 set of national exams. She is currently in her second year studying Law at the University of Cape Town and has been awarded an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellowship, which includes tertiary education financial support as well as exposure to thought leaders, mentorship and entrepreneurial mindset development.
Danielle’s passion for Law began in high school, when she was selected to represent South Africa in 2014 at the High School International Moot Court Competition in Holland at The Hague. Not only did she have the opportunity to engage with students and judicial leaders from around the world – but her team achieved a place in the finals!
Despite her busy schedule as a Law student, Danielle is pioneering a very exciting project within the Spirit Foundation Alumni Society – the Spirit Foundation Alumni Mentorship Programme – an initative where Spirit Foundation Alumni are trained and equipped to provide mentorship and guidance to Spirit Foundation Scholars. We asked Danielle a few questions about her course and the significance of the Mentorship Programme that she is establishing:
I am a Law student at the University of Cape Town and an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Candidate Fellow. Central to the philosophy of the fellowship is the training of high impact entrepreneurial leaders who will be at the forefront of the socio-economic transformation of our region. I am passionate about the law and the inherent possibilities for social and economic justice within the terrains of interpretation and our Constitution. An obvious challenge is that Law is one of the most difficult degrees to study, but I believe that tenacity and confidence are essential to remaining on the Dean’s List.
What advice would you give to scholars who are interested in studying Law?
I would advise scholars who are interested in studying Law to conduct in-depth research about Law as a field of study, and not Law as a television series like Suits. The high drop-out rate in the faculty partly exists as a phenomenon because students are unaware of what studying Law really means and entails.
What were some of the challenges you faced in High School and how did you overcome them?
A lack of financial support from my family was a major challenge. In Matric I managed to work two jobs (one as a tutor for the Spirit Foundation) and I managed to receive a scholarship for university.
Tell us about the International High School Moot Court Competition in the Netherlands and what you took away from the experience
Apart from being absolutely inspired and enthralled by arguing in court and participating intellectually as an agent of the law within the legal discipline, the most valuable lesson I took away from the competition is that the politics of access can be eradicated if passion and conviction reigns within individuals who recognise and expand potential. I had no knowledge of the competition, and was rather disinterested in studying Law, before my school teacher – Mrs McArthur from Immaculata – gave me the opportunity as well as the emotional and resource support to excel. Had my teacher not recognised my potential, and had she not believed that I could compete at a national and international level, I would never have participated and I would never have been able to contend for the opportunities that I seized as a result of my participation. The other end of the coin is that we need to mould and value ourselves enough to allow ourselves to be recognised, and this is achieved through determination and audacious ambition.
What impact do you feel you are having as a change-maker in your community?
I am changing the face of change. By focusing on social entrepreneurship and establishing my own organisation as a student without funding, I believe that I am demystifying the perception of change as coming from a wealthy philanthropist outside of the community that it purports to change.
What makes you a role model to your peers?
The incredible personal difficulties that I have endured throughout my life makes me a role model. I have managed, by a miracle, to not have my academic performance affected by the hardships that I have and continue to encounter.
Do you have a message to the current Spirit Foundation scholars?
The money that you do not have now, the relationship that you yearn for now, and the food that you wish you had now will have no material hold over your life in the future if you work tenaciously and achieve your goals and dreams. However, the decision you make to study now, to appreciate your life now, and to love yourself now despite your circumstances will determine everything. If you are ostracised or marginalised by the spaces that you enter, you are either doing something really well or you possess qualities that people yearn for. When we understand this, and we try to understand why people hold the preconceived ideas about us that they do, we can overcome them and even defeat them.
Do you have a message for your fellow Spirit Foundation Alumni?
At the heart of any group of alumni is the notion of community and collaboration. We cannot realise our dreams for the foundation, or our contributions towards the foundation, if we do not celebrate and nurture our community.
The Spirit Alumni Mentorship Programme is my way of paying it forward, and my way of cultivating and protecting my community to ensure that every scholar who enters the foundation retains their scholarship and becomes an alumnus who will then contribute in the same way or otherwise to the future of the Spirit Foundation. What we will then have achieved is a cycle of entrepreneurship, leadership and generations of dedication to the future of our country through education.
We are incredibly proud of Danielle and so grateful for her input and initiave within the Spirit Foundation Alumni Society. We know that this amazing woman is going to go far!