Serrina Kenny describes her teenage years as wild and rebellious – but she always knew she had the ability to do something with her life.
For Serrina, the path to graduating from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Laws hasn’t been easy.
She grew up in Queensland with her mother and quit high school when she became pregnant at the age of 16.
“High school wasn't my thing, but I always had teachers encouraging me to do better and I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I was a high achiever when I actually did my work.”
Serrina moved to Bateman’s Bay to live near her father and eventually decided to pursue a Bachelor of Education at UC in 2014.
“I initially thought I wanted to be a teacher, but a year and a half into the degree, my grandmother said that she had a friend in Sydney who was a barrister, and he was looking for someone who was of an Indigenous heritage to study law, so he could mentor them through their studies,” Serrina says.
“I couldn’t really think of anyone and just left it, then about six months later I thought, why not me?”
Serrina shook off any remaining self-doubt and enrolled in one unit, before applying to study a Bachelor of Laws.
“I got accepted, and it felt pretty overwhelming because I honestly never thought I was smart enough to do law,” she says.
“When you think ‘lawyer’, you think of an esteemed professional, born with a silver spoon in their mouth – and I definitely wasn’t that.”
With dogged determination, Serrina prepared to smash the lawyer stereotype, going into the degree as a young, Indigenous mother.
“It hasn’t been an easy path, but it's just about dealing with the challenges, accepting them, and then moving forward,” she says.
During her studies, Serrina planned her wedding, tied the knot with her partner – who she met not long after moving to Bateman’s Bay – and gave birth to her second child.
“A lecturer in my first law unit told me that to study law, you need to have a solid support system, and that I needed to make sure my partner understood that study was going to be a big part of my life for a while,” Serrina says.
Her two boys are now aged 10 and five, and Serrina says juggling study with young kids wasn’t as hard as she expected.
“My kids have always been reasonably good with their routines, and I wasn’t exactly a star pupil in the sense that I would do my studying the day of an assignment, do some reading the night before, and for a year or two I didn't work, which was helpful,” she says.
“I always liked pressure and stress to [help me] get things done and it always seemed to work.”
With her degree under her belt, Serrina is gaining a wealth of experience through the Australian Government Solicitor Graduate Program in areas such as Constitutional law, and competition and consumer law.
In 2023, Serrina is hoping to work in the ACT Magistrates Court as an associate .
During her degree, she says it was the criminal-based units she enjoyed the most, firming up her desire to become a criminal law barrister, advocating for those who face complex or serious legal matters in the justice system.
“I feel like I'm on the right path.”
Taking that path led to a number of doors opening, with Serrina gaining financial support, internships and opportunities for networking throughout her studies.
But it’s the moral support Serrina valued most.
“Without the support of my family, especially my grandparents and the family friend who has been mentoring me, I don't think I would be where I am today,” she says.
Serrina feels like one of the biggest challenges she will face working in the legal profession is being unable to help Indigenous people caught up in the justice system, due to a conflict –of interest rule.
“I want to be able to support any disadvantaged person, regardless of their background,” she says.
“From an Indigenous person's point of view, there is always going to be some kind of conflict of interest because everyone somehow knows everyone, we’re all connected.”
Looking back on the path she has travelled so far, Serrina has a powerful message for anyone who might be doubting their ability to pursue tertiary education.
“I would say, ‘Why not? Why not make that step? Who says you're not smart enough? Why do you have this doubt?’” she says.
“Why not try it? Because there’s no right or wrong answer, and everyone has their own journey.”
Words by Emma Larouche, photo by Tyler Cherry.
This September, the University of Canberra would like to congratulate the graduating class of 2022.
We are so glad we can celebrate your journey – you have grown in so many ways, and risen to meet challenges with grace and creativity.
Many of you are already impacting your chosen fields, while others embark on the postgraduate study path.
We are so proud of you all, and we can't wait to see what you will do next.