Graduation address given by Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC

Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Law graduation ceremony held at 11.30am on 21 May 2010 in the Great Hall. Her Excellency is Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and recipient of the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).

The photo below of Her Excellency giving the occasional address is copyright, Memento Photography.

Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC

Graduation address

Chancellor, Your Excellency Professor Marie Bashir
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Spence
Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Gillian Triggs
The Honourable Michael Kirby
Distinguished guests
Graduands and your families

I acknowledge:

  • the traditional keepers of this land,
  • and their successors, the custodians of this fine university,
  • a place:
    — for searching and experimenting
    — growing up and taking charge of oneself
    — for laying the ground work of a discipline and a career
    — and making friendships and memories for life.

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel so deeply honoured to be here at the University of Sydney today.

To share this occasion with you:

  • a public affirmation of your achievements
  • an invitation to step up to professional and civic life.

And to take in the immensity, awe, and beauty of this place:

  • Australasia's very first university,
  • established by statute 160 years ago,
  • grounded in the rich offerings of the liberal arts,
    and born with an infinite capacity and patience to explore and enlarge the learnings of the world.

University of Sydney is not my alma mater, but its presence and influence have nourished and shaped me in lasting ways.

When I came back to Women's College in 2007 to give the Louisa McDonald Oration, I used the words of Australian scholar and author, Jill Ker Conway, to describe what I felt during my years there as principal: the places and people that give our lives an aura of magic potential.

It was a magic that was real and alive and that allowed us to make good things happen - a magic founded on:

  • a belief in equity and justice
  • the sustaining and liberating value of a university education
  • the meaning of a community of scholarship
  • and courageous, visionary leadership.

And it is a magic that persists everywhere here.

Your Vice-Chancellor is known for:

  • his intellectual curiosity,
  • his enthusiasm for learning - inside and outside the classroom,
  • his faith in his staff and students - your ability, creativity and potential;
  • and his aspirations for a university that is elite but not elitist - one that encourages promise not privilege.

And of course his profound Christian faith.

Recently, I listened to a program on Radio National that was broadcast in January of this year as part of the Sydney Festival.

A number of prominent Australians were asked to share their hopes for 2010.

The Vice-Chancellor was one them.

He spoke of his commitment to hope itself.

He said he holds onto hope because of:

  • the human capacity for selfless, giving love;
  • and our instinctive knowing that things should and can be better.

I hadn't long returned from the Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli when I heard his words.

They especially touched me as I too had spoken about love and how it gives meaning and hope to all that we do, even in war.

And when I was preparing for today, it struck me that hope is ever present in my thoughts.

My own education was, and remains, the greatest advantage and hope of my life, a gift of love from my parents that equipped me:

  • for living and working,
  • marriage and mothering,
  • engaging with the world,
  • following my dreams,
  • and understanding my responsibilities.

I can remember feeling a carefree, naïve sort of hope, when I graduated in Law 45 years ago.

Back then, student days for most of us were spent philosophising on the lawn, debating in the refec, and demonstrating about bus fare hikes.

We swotted hard; we had plenty of fun and few demands, other than the expectation of high marks.

My "halcyon days", I call them.

Graduands, I suspect these reminiscences may sound a little absurd to you, even implausible.

These days a university education offers many extraordinary opportunities, but I know for sure that there isn't much time for reading Plato under the Jacarandas.

"No time for playtime" headed an article in last weekend's Herald.

For years now you have been known as the 'learner/earners':

  • fast-tracked programs
  • fewer hours on campus
  • multiple part-time jobs
  • fees to pay
  • groceries to buy
  • a career to carve out
  • and all of that in a standard week.

I used to worry about you - a lot.

And I still wish you didn't have to bear the pressures of this new world so early and so heavily.

BUT, as is always the way when we are pushed and challenged, we dig deeper and discover strengths we didn't know we had.

You have attuned yourselves to the change that characterises society now - the knowledge-based economy:

  • that requires workers to have high levels of tertiary education,
  • that has you returning to university regularly to stay competitive;
  • and has accustomed you to a flexible and shifting employment market.

In response:

  • you have taken charge of your own learning,
  • extended its life,
  • and, in the process,
  • you have changed the whole nature of education.

You are your own experts - your own biographers.

The 'learners and earners' have become the 'self navigators' - an expression that young yachtswoman Jessica Watson has now undeniably affirmed!

And so when I look out at this hall today, I'd say that it's overflowing with hope!

But with hope of a different kind from the one I remember:

  • an informed hope
  • more experienced, focused
  • savvier
  • harder won
  • and perhaps a little impatient!

It's no wonder employers are jostling to get you:

  • hopeful and excited about the change you can bring to their workplaces,
  • though for some, I'd guess, mildly terrified too.

I think the other significant difference about your hope is the breadth of it.

You and I can share what we love about the Law, how it has trained us to think and write, how its discipline enters everything we do in work and life.

But you can and will take it to places I could never have dreamt of:

  • researching in Geneva for the World Intellectual Property Organisation;
  • assisting for the International Criminal Court in The Hague;
  • doing a training contract in a Hong Kong law firm;
  • taking a fellowship with the World Wildlife Fund in Washington DC;
  • working as a volunteer child law reformer in Swaziland or a People's Lawyer in Kiribati;
  • joining Lawyers Beyond Borders to help strengthen legal and judicial systems in developing countries around the world.

I get tingles mentioning just a handful of possibilities.

I urge you to seek them out,

Take them up.

I know you will be better lawyers because of it.

And I know that the Australian and global communities need the skills that these offerings will give you.

Something that happens when we leave university - and when we later return - is that we realise what it did for us.

We want to make sure, that that happens for others too - - particularly those without the same advantages.

My old pals and I:

  • were conscious of the freedom our Commonwealth scholarships gave us to simply get on and learn,
  • of the duty we still have to give our support to the preservation of scholarship schemes and the establishment of new ones;
  • to guide and mentor young men and women in their choices - to encourage you to stretch yourselves,
  • take some risks;
  • to look for ways to create opportunities for indigenous scholars, scholars from isolated and rural communities.

I can't tell you the exhilaration I feel knowing that Ms Kristy Kennedy is one of today's graduates.

Kristy came from Bourke when I was looking after Women's College.

To think of:

  • what she brought to College life and learning;
  • the bonds she made;
  • the experiences and wisdom she so generously shared with us all,
  • and many others beyond and since.

Kristy is a champion for all indigenous Australians, a true Australian leader, and a sure measure of our nation's hope.

GRADUANDS, I give you my greatest praise for your achievements:

  • your award,
  • and the determined effort, self-belief and hope
  • that drove you to this day,
  • and that will send you off on unforgettable and enriching journeys.

Each of you, be sure to:

  • stay connected with the world,
  • talk honestly with yourself and others,
  • protect yourself from shallow impressions,
  • and allow yourself to be the person you are.

I am sincerely complimented by the award I receive with you today, and humbled in knowing the esteemed ranks I join.

Together, we make up a body:

Friends, thank you.

  • that connects us with our histories,
  • our futures,
  • and with one another here now,
  • and that safeguards the boundless, vibrant hope of education.