The Class of 1985–1989

Following the great success of our inaugural alumni reunion in 2018, in September this year we hosted a reunion with alumni from the class of 1985–1989, in an evening get-together at the Old Government Buildings.

A group photo of the reunion attendees on the stairs of the Law School.

Alumni Rebecca Kitteridge and Justice Joe Williams spoke and others contributed photos and shared stories with fellow alumni and staff. Deputy Dean of the Faculty Gordon Stewart, himself an alumnus of the group, welcomed everyone and reminisced about the tribulations of studying land law—“my memory of that course is that it demonstrated incredibly vividly that the world was split into two groups: Those that appreciate and understand and enjoy the rule against perpetuity and on the other hand, those who have friends.”

“Against that background of shared experiences, which is now unbelievably almost 35 years ago, it is delightful to see this evening contemporaries of mine from Law School.”

Professor Susy Frankel, also an alumna from the period, acted as MC for the event. She acknowledged current colleagues and former lecturers and paid tribute to the achievements of the alumni gathered for the reunion—“we have hardworking public servants, sole practitioners, partners, judges”—as well as those who were not able to attend.

The Honourable Justice Joe Williams welcomed everyone “to this gathering of geriatrics”. “I was reflecting on my time in Law School and how transformative it was of my life—how utterly, utterly transformative it was.”

Justice Williams said law school was the most exciting time of his life. “At the end of it someone gave you the words of power, and with those words, you could change stuff. You can change the lives of people around you who are your clients, or the people who come to your ministry or department, you can change the world at a wholesale or retail level, just with these skills that this outfit hands to you for $200 a year and the standard tertiary bursary. I mean, how lucky were we?”

Alumna Rebecca Kitteridge recalled being introduced to the Socratic method of questioning, and revealed there was a spot in the lecture theatre where it was possible to lie on the floor and take notes without being noticed.

“I know that most of you were better law students than I was and I am sure you were better lawyers than me too, but law has stood me in very good stead in all the jobs I have done and even though I haven’t been a proper lawyer for years and years, it’s still incredibly useful to me in what I’m doing now and so like you, it’s been a massively important part of my life.”

Stu Webster (who graduated in 1985) is based in Los Angeles working as a Californian lawyer and a Kiwi lawyer. He recalled cultural moments of the time—”During Orientation Week 1980, Don McGlashan and Blam Blam Blam were touring, the Vic Union Cinema was showing re-runs of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Police were big in the popular music charts and Greg McGee was launching Foreskin’s Lament.”

He says the strength of the Law School was that it taught the basics extremely well.

“That grounding is essential as a platform from which to expand into different areas of law once in practice. Other institutions provide for brief “intro” courses that satisfy the Council of Legal Education requirements but do not prepare practitioners for the real world. It encourages specialisation way too early and leaves a gap in learning in important boilerplate areas of law. I view that as a mistake.”

What advice would he give current students? “Concentrate on the basics and achieve the best possible grade, uncluttered by everything else that may be going on in your life.”

Deborah Hart (Woolf) graduated in 1984 and is Director of Deborah Hart Consulting; Director ASH NZ; Chair of the Holocaust Centre of NZ and Panel Member of the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

She recalled her first day at the University. “I blithely walked past the McCahon, unaware that it was any kind of art and took my place in what seemed like a vast lecture hall in Maclaurin.

“A mix of excitement and fear, there beside me were my expectant peers. We were told to look to the left, look to the right. Apparently only one of us was going to get through. I confess I thought some very uncharitable thoughts about those two unfortunate students sitting next to me. I knew the one in three had to be me.”

She says she was quite unwell and disabled during much of her time at the University. “An enduring memory is physically dragging myself up to the library and lectures. It was not a campus for the disabled, but it was a kind place with supportive academics and steadfast friends. I remain profoundly grateful to the University and lecturers like the late John Thomas, who showed me understanding and kindness, even when they were gunning for me in lectures with that dreaded Socratic method.

“They say the things that don’t come easy are treasured. Maybe that’s why to this day I treasure my law degree. I treasure the way it made my brain hurt extending myself academically. And I treasure the friends I made and the fabulous experiences that swirled around the University.”

“I was delighted to be able to give back to the University by enabling the proceeds of a trust in my father’s name, Ronald Woolf, to be gifted to the University and today I’m a life patron of the Adam Art Gallery. Plus I am about to have the great pleasure of seeing one of my children graduate law from Vic.”

Save the date

Reunion: Graduating Classes of 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1984

Save the Date: Thursday 10 September 2020, 5.30pm

Location: Faculty of Law, Salmond Room (GB219), Old Government Buildings, 55 Lambton Quay, Wellington

Make sure your details are up to date: www.victoria.ac.nz/law-mailing-listlaw-events@vuw.ac.nz