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Famous faces and quiet achievers

Leading change in medicine, industry, politics and the arts

Our famous alumni include names such as Gough Whitlam and pioneer heart transplant surgeon Victor Chang, but also people who improve lives and contribute to change out of the spotlight.

For more than 150 years our alumni have inspired, led, entertained, challenged and improved the world around them.

You’ll recognise many of our famous names; lawmaker Michael Kirby, journalist and broadcaster Mary Kostakidis, writer Clive James, opera singer Dame Joan Sutherland and activist Charles Perkins.

But, for every famous alumnus or alumna, you’ll find thousands of people who have led change and made a difference in their own field.

We’re equally proud of them all and impressed by their achievements.

From politics to pioneers and producers

No less than five Australian prime ministers cut their academic teeth with us, including Edmund Barton who, in 1901, won the country’s inaugural federal election.

Today Noel Pearson is a highly respected advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and recognition, while Professor Marie Bashir is a former Governor of NSW and one of Australia's most prominent academics and public figures.

Away from politics, pioneers in health and medicine have started their journey of enquiry and research here.

Again, there are names you’ll know, such as renowned heart surgeon Dr Victor Chang, and others you may not, like Professor Graeme Clark FRS, who made the first cochlear ear implant.

Professor Clark’s invention has given the gift of hearing back to more than 100,000 people in more than 80 countries to date, and he is one of the many alumni whose work exemplifies our vision of leadership that supports positive change.

In 2014 Dr Anna Lau excelled on the frontline in the fight against the highly infectious ebola virus, with the National Institutes of Health in the US. Her work has won Dr Lau inclusion in Forbes magazine's annual '30 under 30' list of innovators in global health.

Touching and improving lives comes in many different forms. John Bell, an arts graduate and adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work since 2007, formed the Bell Shakespeare Company in 1991. 

Since then it has been a major theatrical production house, giving pleasure to theatre-goers season after season.

We've helped to inspire 140 Olympians and Paralympians who have thrilled sports fans in stadiums around the world.

At the London 2012 games our students and alumni brought home one gold, three silver and four bronze medals. If the University of Sydney was a country, we would have finished 38th on the medal ladder.

The spirit of giving back and doing good

The spirit of philanthropy and humanity leads many of our alumni to work for organisations such as the UN, like Jeni Klugman, Director of its Human Development Report Office. Or passionately fight for a single cause, such as Natalie Bennett, an agricultural science graduate and former leader of the UK Green Party.

Or it may take them into the law, lobbying for change, like human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who has fought discrimination and defended the freedom of speech on an international stage; and Indigenous mentor and founder of the AIME program, Jack Manning Bancroft.

In accepting an honorary degree in Education and Social Work in 2006, he recalled his first time at the University in the 1960s.

“Learning at this university meant learning how and why to reject ideas that were cruel or obsolete or discriminatory,” he said.

“We left here with the notion that there was no such thing as 'pure' scholarship: that scholarship could never be pure unless it pointed a way to benefit society.”

It is a notion our alumni continue to pay forward.