Giséle Chloé Lavita is not one to let circumstances stand in her way. At only 25 years, she graduated this week with a LLD from Stellenbosch University (SU) – one of the youngest to do so.
What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that her degree is based on research she was doing for her master's in 2020. But her work, which focused on the regulation of Airbnb, was of such an exceptional quality that external reviewers suggested an upgrade to an LLD. Her study was then completed at a doctoral level.
Lavita has grabbed every opportunity that has come her way. Raised by her single mother on the Cape Flats, Lavita obtained six distinctions in matric despite having to relocate and change schools because of financial constraints. When offered a bursary from SU, she accepted it as “as an opportunity to develop as an individual and get out of my comfort zone".
With funding from the University and external donors, Lavita was able to continue her studies. In her final year of her LLB degree, she worked as a research assistant for the South African Research Chair in Property Law and was awarded a scholarship to complete her master's under the supervision of Prof Zsa-Zsa Boggenpoel.
However, due to the financial situation of her family, Lavita had to further supplement her income with extra jobs while studying fulltime, and she also worked as a tutor and a waitress. “Although I was under immense pressure, it was beneficial in the long run, because I developed exceptional time management skills which I believe was instrumental in enabling me to complete my LLD during Covid-19."
Says Prof Juanita Pienaar, acting Dean of the Law Faculty: “When I think of Lavita, two words come to mind: commitment and determination. She is extremely focused, committed to her studies and determined to make a positive impact in society. She was never deterred by obstacles or challenges. On the contrary, they seem to have invigorated her. We are very proud of Giséle, the person she is and what she achieved."
Lavita describes her time at SU as a period of considerable personal development. Her studies have allowed her to engage with people from around the world and even improve her Afrikaans. “I have made lifelong friends who have broadened my mindset, strengthened me in my Christian faith, introduced me to different cultures and opened me up to new, exciting experiences."
As part of her LLD research, Lavita visited Germany to conduct a case study on the regulation of Airbnb in Berlin. The experience prompted a love for languages, and she is now conversant in German and has just started to learn Spanish.
Ever mindful of her own obstacles, Lavita is involved with the Beautiful Life Training and Community Development Association, a charity on the Cape Flats that feeds hungry families, sends children to school and helps unemployed parents find work. She also mentored and tutored students during her undergraduate studies.
“My experience as a law student has been truly humbling. Now that I have obtained my LLD, I would like to enter the field of academia. Irrespective of where I go next in life, I am certain that my tenacious spirit and ability to persevere in the face of adversity will ensure that I make a positive impact on those around me, wherever that may be."
Photographer: Stefan Els