A seismic shift in outlook inspires Hannah to academic success

Hannah Gray

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 prompted Hannah Gray (nee Clifton) to give up a glamorous musical theatre career and pursue a career in journalism.

Hannah’s previous line of work might seem a far cry from graduating  from the University of Sussex on 14 July with a BA International Development, but it came quite naturally to her. 

Her singing and dancing career took her round the world working on cruise ships. She also worked for Walt Disney in Paris, Milan, Tokyo and Istanbul. Along the way she sometimes saw poverty and social unrest.

Then, whilst working for Walt Disney in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami struck in March 2011. The theme park was flooded – not by the tsunami but by liquefaction, because the ground was weakened by the quake.

Her work stopped with the closure of the theme park and she found herself glued to the news about the main disaster zone nearby. The wall-to-wall coverage about the terror of aftershocks and whether the Fukushima nuclear plant would leak radiation was frightening but fascinating, Hannah says.

“I became very interested in journalism – as I felt lots of the media coverage was sensationalist. I wanted to watch to absorb the information but it also made me terrified.”

At age 25 Hannah was counted as a “mature” student and a First Generation Scholar when she came to Sussex. “Facing three years of research, reading and revision felt daunting but I suspected I wanted to work in journalism and I wanted to acquire more knowledge about the world and gain the skills a degree brings, such as skilled analysis, critical thinking and improved communication,” she says.

It was a culture shock at first being “argued under the table in seminars by younger bilingual bright sparks,” she says.

Hannah certainly did not let that put her off though. She grabbed every opportunity she could find to increase her work load. She took several placements during her studies, including one in the news room at Heart Radio and another paid for by the University in the public relations office at the charity Sightsavers.  

“I worked full time during the university work placement at Sightsavers and had to do weekly learning logs on top of full days plus a 6000 word report. The report was about celebrity advocacy for charities – I’d just worked with Lorraine Kelly on a BBC Radio 4 appeal, “she says.

Whilst all this was going on, she was also busy preparing for her wedding to dentist David Gray. “David proposed to me in December and we got married in the August between my second and third year. I planned for the wedding during my weekends,” she says.

Despite all the distractions, she achieved a first class honours and won the Pramit Chaudhuri Prize for best performance in International Development. She plans to pursue a career in journalism next.

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 9 July 2015