The 2012 Alumni Awards: The best and brightest

30 October 2012

Alumni Award recipients 2012
Alumni Award recipients 2012

"The future of a university is the future of a country," said Belinda Hutchinson. With that brief insight at the 2012 Alumni Awards ceremony on 26 October, the Chair of QBE Insurance summed up the transforming power of education.

Hutchinson, recognised for her landmark success in the corporate world and efforts to open new horizons for women, was one of five winners of this year's Alumni Achievement Awards, and her acknowledgement of the value of university was a common theme in an inspirational ceremony in a packed Great Hall.

Now in their 20th year, the awards are divided into two categories: alumni achievement awards for graduates already established in their careers, and graduate medals, announced on the night, which recognise younger achievers who graduated or completed their degree requirements in the previous year.

Eric Knight, winner of the Young Alumni Award for Achievement, demonstrated the confidence and vision that saw him earn the award. "Australia is a country whose best years lie ahead of it but that's future is not yet secure," he told the audience.

That underscored the importance of universities in general and Sydney in particular. "The University propels the tradition of thinking, of thoughtfulness, compassion for those less well off, and mentorship for those wanting to learn."

These themes were echoed by epidemiologist Dr David Hunter, winner of the Alumni Award for International Achievement for his leadership of research into cancer at Harvard University. "Sydney has spawned a very large cohort of epidemiologists around the world," Dr Hunter said. "I don't know why but it [is] clearly because of the value the University places on research."

The joint winners of the Alumni Award for Community Achievement were Mary Kostakidis, for her role as Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation, and David Handley, for his founding of the iconic art exhibition, Sculpture by the Sea.

Kostakidis said it "has been a privilege to be involved with (the Peace Foundation). It gives a voice to those who are standing against those with power". In a pointed defence of its controversial history, she added: "It can cause discomfort because... sometimes that is what it takes."

Handley, whose commitment to Sculpture by the Sea has changed the stature of public art in Australia, was self-deprecating about his achievement. "I don't know if what I did was single-handed. But it did allow me to have a job because I know I could not work in the 'real world'."

Handley's observation about finding his place in the world was given true grit by Scott Wilson, winner of the Sister Alison Bush Medal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Achievement.

"Who would have thought that all those years ago, when I was sitting in prison cells for drug and alcohol abuse, that I would be standing up here tonight?" Wilson told the audience with disarming candour as he accepted his award for completion of his Masters of Indigenous Health (Substance Abuse).

The Director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council for the past 17 years, Wilson has played a significant role in shaping national policy on the subject and said his studies would help take him to the next level in his commitment to addressing the problem.

The winners of the other five graduate medals were:

Convocation Medal for undergraduate achievement: Patrick Bateman and Andrew Thomas (joint)

Nigel C Barker Medal for sporting achievement: Alexandra Croak

Edmund Barton Medal for master's by coursework achievement: Joanna Whitney

Rita and John Cornforth Medal for PhD achievement: Jodie Ingles

John C Harsanyi Medal for international student achievement: Christian Sautter