There are plenty of layers to Khayshie Tilak Ramesh. We’re meeting the law student in her lunchbreak at the Australian Geographic shop to talk about being named Bendigo’s 2017 Young Citizen of the Year. It’s soon evident, there’s much more to her story, although it needs some gentle coaxing.
“My sister and I are the same,” Khayshie says, “we can never boast about ourselves. If we have to do a resume or a scholarship submission, we write each other’s. But I never expected her to do this.”
It was Khayshie’s sister who nominated her for the local honour, which comes with 12-months of civic duties to add to her already long to-do list, starting with an Australia Day speech at 10am at Lake Weeroona tomorrow.
“I still have to write my speech,” she says, two days out. The 19-year-old is planning on using the trusted method of removing her glasses before speaking, rendering the crowd a blur and likewise softening the nerves.
Seems she’s a master at adaptation. At making her own rules and way forward in life. Take, for example, her approach to university.
The high-achieving Girton Grammar alumna says she never planned to study law. “It’s a weird story, it’s really awkward,” she laughs. “My sister is two years older and we’re super competitive. We always said one of us would study medicine and one would study law, and she faints at the sight of blood, so we always knew which one would do which.”
And then Khayshie’s sister surprised her family by pursuing a career as a doctor. “So I said I was putting law down as a preference, as a joke, and I got it. I hadn’t even done legal studies in high school. I just thought, okay, so this is what life wants me to do.”
The third-year student says her first year at La Trobe’s Bendigo campus was really challenging. She struggled to keep up, so took it upon herself to study the Year 12 legal studies syllabus and learn from the ground up.
“I’m really grateful now that I did that,” she says. “Now, in court, when people don’t understand the legal system, I know what it is like to be that person.”
She also credits lecturer Chris Casey for helping get her through. “He was my rock through most of it,” she says. “I can’t thank him enough, he’s just influenced my life as a law student so much.”
In 2015 Khayshie interned with Chris at Bendigo’s family violence court each Tuesday, interviewing clients before their cases were heard. “Being in court was a game changer for me, seeing the amount of people there who needed help,” she says. “I saw a lot of clients get yelled at by lawyers and it really irked me, I thought, that’s not going to help the lawyers or the clients.”
The experience has fuelled a passion in Khayshie to promote empathy from lawyers towards their clients. To promote “lawyers as healers”.
It seems like such a simple concept,” she says. “We are taught all the theory to be a lawyer, but it’s also important to know how to deal with clients who are violent, upset or crying. As lawyers we’re never going to connect with our clients if we can’t empathise.”
She says to be a doctor, her sister has to complete training in empathy. “There’s no compulsory empathetic training in law. Can you teach a person to be empathetic? I think you can always teach someone to be nice to someone else.
“For a lot of clients in court, it’s really easy to feel like no one cares about them. You can be a calming force in a stressful situation and say, it’s okay to feel silly, the law is not common knowledge.”
The local experience led Khayshie to successfully apply for an international internship. This autumn she will travel to Canada for three months to work with a lawyer specialising in the ‘lawyer as healer’ concept, plus with a firm that advocates for disabled people’s rights in court. She’ll also spend time giving homeless people legal advice on how to get out of fines.
And if that’s not enough, while there and on a break from uni work, Khayshie will begin studying for a Diploma of Counselling, to assist with her goal of holistically influencing her future clients’ lives.
“My big blue sky dream for the future is to open up a firm that provides counselling services as well as lawyers. A safe place. Maybe I can make a difference to family violence if I create a safe place for people to come to.” She hopes Bendigo will be the place to benefit. “That’s where I found the problem – I may as well solve it where it started.”
Khayshie is already influencing the city. Her volunteer work is what earned her this week’s civic recognition. She is a Red Cross young humanitarian leader, co-founder of Bendigo group Young People for Refugees, a Benetas aged care volunteer and Community Leadership Loddon Mallee board member.
Plus, and here’s where the coaxing comes in, she’s been recently named on the prestigious Top100 Future Leaders list; a highly-competitive select group of mostly post-grads, seen as potential leaders for Australia. It’s big.
Even though she’s still an undergrad, Khayshie thought there was no harm in applying. After gruelling tests and interviews, she made the list, and next month will fly to Sydney to connect with top Australian employers, with hopes of also being named one of the top law students.
As we said, there’s much more to Khayshie’s story. Stay tuned.