‘You’re joshing me,’ student reacts to winning scholarship in surprise video call

Trent University student wins scholarship to study law.

I haven’t heard that phrase in decades but that’s what this student said in a surprise Zoom video call when she learned that she won a scholarship. Staff told her they had some follow-up questions to ask her as part of the application process as they were continuing to review the applications from students transitioning from high school to post-secondary education. Instead, they were actually planning to tell her that she was this year’s winner.

In the video we meet Russell Alexander, the man who the award is named after, an associate and an intern who were all on the call with the winner. We learn what life is like for students studying during the pandemic, how to manage work and extracurricular activities while studying, how to ace a competition, and what to put on an application to score points with the judges. Yes, all of that in just about eight minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Plus the joy of watching someone react to being told they won something.

Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “Oh my goodness you’re actually kidding. You’re joshing me,” said Trent University student Mary Hallett upon learning that she was indeed the winner of the competition. Alexander had to tell her that they weren’t kidding at all and that she was the successful applicant chosen for this year’s Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers’ $2,500 scholarship.

Hallett is a fingerpicking guitar player who is excited about learning the law but for now she’s on the waiting list to volunteer with the Trent University radio station and the wildlife conservation centre. Right now opportunities available to her are limited due to COVID-19.

Being a recent student herself, law intern Stephanie Brooks, who went home and told her parents that she was going to become a lawyer at the age of five after her friend’s dad who is a prosecutor spoke to her class at school, asked her about life while studying during the pandemic and the transition from high school to university. Hallett maintains a positive attitude about the challenges and instability of being new at university mixed with the unpredictability of life during a pandemic. She says she loves going to university, that she’s doing well and that it’s a good idea to get to know the professors, since “they are people too.”

Although they can’t have guests in their rooms in residence at Trent, they are able to visit common rooms. “I’m not completely isolated, which is nice. It’s not prison at this point and time. I’m making lots of friends, and everybody is coming from different walks of life and I’m feeling very enriched in that way,” says Hallett.

She’s a good student with a high GPA, who contributes to the community and does extracurricular activities. She is extremely accomplished and is deserving of this law scholarship, says the managing associate lawyer Nafisa Nazareli.

She had a glowing reference letter and met the academic criteria but Hallett’s extracurricular activities, especially her guitar playing and music career, was what impressed Alexander. Surprisingly, Hallett was upfront about following Alexander on Instagram in her research.

“I’ve actually been following your Instagram along and I’ve notice your massive stacks of essays and your Turntable Tuesdays” and noticed that we had that in common, she says.

Hallett has been playing fingerstyle guitar since she was five years old and started doing production when she was in Grade 12. Now she’s focusing on herself as a musician as opposed to just doing covers of other people’s music.

She seems well on her way to accomplishing success with those “big dreams” she says she has. A scholarship will certainly go a long way financially and in reaffirming the belief in one’s own capabilities. And it’s just nice to hear good news.

The firm offers the annual scholarship to offset the costs of studying the field of law in Canada. This year, the grant included a technology stipend to help with remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird


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