Graduation from MPhil. in Land Economy standing at St Edmund’s College ‘B’ Door

A dare took me to Cambridge and changed the course of my life.

After I finished my undergraduate degree at Bond University, Australia, I was at a loose end. I was planning to continue to run a business that I started some years earlier, but I unexpectedly walked away. I wanted to do further study, but I hadn’t made any applications, so I decided to take some time off to explore.

My boyfriend at the time was headed to England to start his degree at the University of Cambridge. I decided to accompany him, spend two weeks with him prior to his course starting, then roam about continental Europe, in the way that antipodeans tend to do. That was the plan, until I spoke to my Father.

Vanessa Pearson, Alfred Ng, Michael Gunn, Siddharth Kumar 1999

When I told my Father my plans, he immediately dared me to apply to Cambridge University whilst I was in town. I was an audacious type of kid, that wasn’t going to back down from a dare. So as insane as it seemed, I agreed to apply to Cambridge two weeks prior to the start of Michaelmas term. I’ll never forget standing in the middle of Kings Parade cold calling the Department of Land Economy explaining to them how I was ‘unexpectedly available’. The next two weeks was a wild emotional rollercoaster which ended with me admitted to read the M.Phil. and having been accepted into St Edmund’s College.

Vanessa, Carol (#40), Jo, Jane Georgiou (née Higginbottom) and Adam

I was ill prepared for Cambridge. I literally arrived with a back pack full of travelling clothes without a place to stay. I decided to turn up to the College and ask if they had any accommodation available. Somewhat serendipitously, moments before I arrived, a bedder had discovered a room in college abandoned by its previous occupant. I was handed the key and told to run out and purchase an academic gown, ready for the matriculation ceremony the next day.

Chris Carter, Vanessa and Sarah Jennings. Prior St Ed’s May Ball 2002. 

After the Matriculation ceremony, I was introduced to the Master of the College, Sir Brian Heap. He commented that the last person he was aware of that applied and was accepted into Cambridge in under 2 weeks was also Australian and he was now the Vice Chancellor of the University. He told me that he had high expectations of me and promptly turned to speak to the next student. I stood there, kind of stunned, looking down at my new gown and my ill-matched hiking boots wondering what laid ahead for me at St Edmunds. As it turned out, St Edmund’s College would teach me much more then my course work.

Alfred Ng, Vanessa Pearson & Jane Georgiou (nee Higginbottom). Vanessa’s graduation from M.Phil. Land Economy 2000

Looking back, some of my experiences were surreal. One of my favourite things was staying up late, and hanging out at the St Ed’s bar well after it was shut and discussing a vast array of topics. One night the topic was black hole theory. I was debating how it all worked with a mathematician, a theologian, a natural scientist and a few others. Just as we thought we had it all figured out, an astrophysicist that consulted to NASA walked in and corrected us all. And that’s the type of place that St Edmund’s College is, you will meet the best of the best, from a variety of different disciplines, from all over the world with a lot of specialised knowledge.

A perfect mix of procrastination and insomnia lead me to the most incredible history lessons about India, from fellow student Siddharth Kumar. At the end of the year, Sid took a group of Eddies students on a historical tour of India, where 4 of us, all with different beliefs, joined him on a religious trek in the Himalaya. And that was what was so magical about Eds, my friends taught me their cultures and perspectives through their eyes.

Last day of Michaelmas term in front of St Edmund’s College 1999 Vlatka Nercessian (nee Kolic), Jane Georgiou (nee Higginbottom), Vanessa Pearson, Ayesha Chenoy, Rob, Alfred Ng, Kasia Walawska

The Honourable Carol Edwards (#40) showed me her home town Kingston, Jamaica. Sudeep Malik guided me through the back streets of Lucknow to find the best street kebabs. Michael Gunn discussed his Hollywood scripts with me over coffee in LA. Alfred Ng fed me way too much food in Singapore as did the rest of my Singaporean friends.  Kohei took me through the historical streets of Tokyo. More recently, I stayed with Vlatka Nercessian (nee Kolic) in her home country where she walked me through the streets where the Croatian war started.

Dr Pete Brereton, Dr Amy Brereton, Kohei W, Vanessa Pearson, Alfred Ng MBA graduation 2002 

I learned about all things British as well. Jane Georgiou (nee Higginbottom) taught me important skills like how to layer clothing to survive the British winter. St John Costelleo taught me equally important skills, such as corridor cricket. Dr Sarah Jennings was a constant mentor. I’ve travelled all over the world to attend weddings of my Eddie’s buddies including Dr Pete and Dr Amy Brereton’s (#7) in the Annapolis Naval Academy. I should note, I take full credit for that relationship. I met both when I returned to college in 2001 to read a MBA at the Judge Business School. 

A special memory was my M.Phil. graduation. I had declined the college’s post-graduation afternoon tea as I was the only student graduating and didn’t want to trouble the college. When the Master met my Mother, who was in town for the event, he immediately insisted on a special celebration in the Okinago room which he personally attended and delivered one of his trademark humorous speeches. That was the type of Master that Sir Brian Heap was, he took a special interest in his students.

Dr Amy Brereton, Ayeesha Lall, Shaun Lee, Vanessa Pearson, Vicky Donnelly, Maricarmen Plata de Royo Michaelmas term 2001 in Amy and Vicky’s maisonette 

The Master’s friendliness was echoed by the College Fellows, Tutors and staff. An Australian Fellow, Rev. Bruce Winter and his wife Lyn took me under their wing and were so wonderful to me. Father Michael Robson, Dean of the College, was very personable, a great sounding board and was loved by all. He once told me that St Edmund’s admitted students that had a special X factor, I found this to be very true. It is the people that make St Edmund’s.

Dr Russell Re Manning and friend at the College bar after formal hall 1999

Prior to attending St Edmunds, I had a keen interest in other cultures. By the time I left, I understood the power in diversity and had a passion for it. More recently I have become a champion for diversity and inclusion in my industry. I launched a leadership support program for aspiring leaders of all backgrounds through my industry association where I serve on a peer elected council.

After University, I returned home to Sydney, Australia to join my family business and later I became the CEO. I am a residential property developer and builder with a special interest in energy efficient housing estates. So far, I have developed over £400 million in real estate.

I have so many fond memories of St Edmund’s College, without a doubt, it shaped who I am and forever changed my life, daring me to make a difference.

Vlatka Nercessian (nee Kolic), Jane Georgiou (nee Higginbottom), Vanessa Pearson Bop at St Edmund’s College Michaelmas 1999.