Graduation address given by Professor Jocalyn Lawler

Professor Jocalyn Lawler gave the occasional address at the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery graduation ceremony held at 9.30am on 14 December 2007.

Professor Lawler was introduced by the Chancellor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, as follows:

"Our speaker this morning is Professor Jocalyn Lawler, Dean of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery.

Professor Lawler grew up in remote New South Wales and began her nursing career at Broken Hill Hospital in 1967, moving on, in the 1980s to an academic career. She holds degrees in social science and education from the University of New England, whilst her doctorate, from the University of New South Wales, was conferred in 1989. A few years later she was appointed Professor of Nursing here, and since 1999, she has been Dean of the Faculty. Professor Lawler is a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, Australia and an Honorary Fellow of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses.

Shortly, Professor Lawler will complete her term as Dean. I don’t think many, outside the senior academic appointments, realise the demands of being a full time Dean. Often it is at the expense of their own research. Professor Lawler had for many years been interested in the intimate and socially hidden and taboo aspects of nursing practice and the patient’s experience of illness. She will be able to return to this, as well as commencing a new interdisciplinary study on medical tourism and collaborating with aboriginal colleagues on how best to integrate western nursing with traditional practices.

Professor Lawler, the University acknowledges your commitment to teaching and research and I now invite you to deliver the occasional address."

Professor Jocalyn Lawler

Above: Professor Jocalyn Lawler giving the occasional address, photo, copyright Memento Photography.

Graduation address

Chancellor, graduates, guests, colleagues.

Congratulations to you, the graduates. To the parents, partners, offspring and friends of the graduates, congratulations for also having made the distance. We thank you for your support and encouragement throughout the graduates’ sometimes stressful experience of university study.

I am honoured to give the occasional address, which is meant to be (a) meaningful; (b) memorable; but most important of all – brief. I will be brief and I hope I may say something today that you also find stays with you for a while.

I love graduations; and I have lost count of the number I have attended, But I still love them. They are theatrical and colourful and we are here in this magnificent Great Hall where many famous people have graduated. You join that group. Most of all, these occasions are about publicly acknowledging talent, tenacity and sometimes great courage, particularly for those of you who have completed research degrees or who have had to struggle one way or another.

I have had the benefit of a good education - some of it excellent. And my life has been deeply enriched as a result. I have been fortunate to learn from the commitment and patience of many of my teachers and academic mentors; and the older I get the more I see the value of those experiences and the investments that other people made in my education. I suspect I was probably far too cheeky and immature on some occasions to appreciate what my teachers and lecturers were investing in me and my life chances, but I can see it now in how my life has unfolded. I was also subject to very ordinary experiences as well, but I learnt different things from them.

The value and uses of a good education are difficult to quantify precisely, but the diffuse benefits of being well educated are inherently part of the public good and they make for a better society. In my discipline of nursing - an occupation that is experiencing severe stress around the globe, as are health care systems generally - we know from many international studies, that the better educated your nurses are, the less likely you are as a patient to have what is called, in the trade, an ‘adverse outcome’.

In a few weeks time, I will complete my term as Dean after some eight and a half years. I have seen a lot of change and will continue to do so. As you do in these circumstances, I have been cleaning up my office, going through the mountains of stuff you accumulate and, inevitably getting distracted by old photos and memorabilia. This has been both nostalgic and instructive as I look at some of the things I’ve kept and ask myself why these things and not others. I am still working on that!

Most of all I am struck by what massive change my generation has witnessed and continues to witness. I still have my final year nurses cap – with starch and four stripes on it. It symbolises a world that was more formally structured and highly disciplined – sometimes brutally so. And I wonder why people want to return to hospital based training. Those of us who trained in those systems do not always have such nostalgic memories; rather we recall rigid rules and routines that have long ago lost their meaning. Our learning was seldom informed by research. Questioning - that fundamental characteristic of research-minded practice - was not encouraged. But our learning was enhanced by experience - and patients, like students, teach you a lot if you are prepared to learn and to listen.

The students of today are very different from the students of two decades ago when I began my academic career. This is the e-generation - email, electronics and expectations about what they want to know as well as what they think they came to university to learn. We now have to teach by persuasion on the basis of the available evidence and perseverance in the face of what students think they want to learn compared with what we think they need to know. We can no longer rely on our advancing years, grey hair, status and the weight of our experience but persuade by our capacity to navigate a logical and compelling argument through the explosion of sources purporting to be authoritative. YouTube, Google and Wikipedia are supplanting traditional sources.

It is a much more interesting world and a fabulous time to be an academic because so many new tools and learning paths are available to us. I love it and I love to be in the presence of this generation who don’t understand how we oldies with grey hair coped without a mobile phone, email and YouTube. I say to you, enjoy it, invest in your own learning and invest in the capacity of those around you to also benefit from what you can now do that you could not do when you first enrolled at Sydney.

Remember, you join a long list of others who have also shared the experience of being in this great university. Cherish it and value your opportunity, and most of all enjoy it.