Graduation address given by John McLenaghan AM

John McLenaghan AM gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Economics and Bussiness ceremony held at 11.30am on 29 May 2009. Mr McLenaghan is Deputy President of the University of Sydney Alumni Council, University of Sydney.

The photo of Mr McLenaghan is copyright, Memento Photography.

John McLenaghan

Graduation address

Deputy Chancellor Michael Spence, Dean Peter Wolnizer, Fellows of the Senate, distinguished guests, graduates, ladies and gentleman.

It is a great privilege for me to be here today to present this address and to congratulate the new graduates of the Faculty of Economics and Business. This occasion has particular significance for me for it is 50 years almost to the day since my graduation in Economics in the Great Hall.

Your years of study at this great university, culminating today in the awarding of your degree as Bachelor of Commerce or Bachelor of Commerce (Social Sciences), have marked a period of enormous transition in the Australian economy. After a prolonged period of sustained and solid growth, productivity gains, low unemployment and asset accumulation, we have seen a sharp reversal of these trends over the last year with the onset of the Great Financial Crisis that has ushered in a global downturn and a general weakening of confidence. In my time as an undergraduate in the 1950s the study of Keynes and his General Theory was more a matter of academic interest – the Post War boom and its aftermath took care of that. Over the past 9-12 months, however, the fiscal stimulus packages that have been implemented in many countries, supported by monetary policy loosening, have underscored the strong intervention of governments as they have attempted to limit the damage and work toward a renewal of confidence. By most measures, Australia has fared relatively better than most countries in this downturn, and as we have looked at the recent indicators, we have seen some signs of a flattening out, if not a few so-called “green shoots” of recovery. This is good news for those of you about to embark on your first careers, but more is needed. Certainly, the period ahead poses challenges that have not been faced for several generations.

When I left Australia in 1970 on a three year assignment as an economist in the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, I had little idea that I would spend more than three decades away from my home country. I was employed by the IMF as an Australian national, with some twenty other Australians as professionals, and perhaps three times that many Australians in the sister organization, the World Bank. At that time, there were 111 member countries of the IMF. That number has grown to more than 180. They were challenging times, with wonderful opportunities for work as an economist in research, intensive country work and the opportunity to write and publish. Some of the country travel was tough but rewarding, and there were opportunities to help in the development of many of the poorer developing countries, especially in Africa, and parts of Asia and Latin America. Later, as the IMF’s chief statistician, I was part of the groundbreaking efforts of the Fund to assist in the transition to a market economy for many of the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The development of good quality and timely statistics in these countries was not easy. And a month in Moscow in the middle of winter was not all fun!
Let me now turn to the present. Today, you are graduating as a group of some 145, within a total graduate component from Economics and Business of about 2.500 in 2009. I have been struck by the size and extent of the student programs of the faculty under Dean Wolnizer – at latest count more than 8700 student enrolments, with 49 per cent of them graduate students, 55 percent female students, and a split between local and international students of 51 per cent/49 per cent. What a contrast to the total of 63 who graduated in Economics in 1959. I believe that only a handful of those graduating in that year were female.

It is against this background that I would like to quote – if I may – the words of Vice Chancellor Michael Spence in his inaugural address last year, when he emphasized his objective of ensuring that the University of Sydney is recognized as an elite, but not an elitist institution. You can be proud of your contribution to the continuation of that tradition.

In the 1990s I was able to renew my links with the university when I became a member of the Sydney University Graduates Union of North America, or SUGUNA. As the alumni body for North America, SUGUNA has provided the means to forge links to expatriate graduates and alumni across many disciplines, particularly through its annual conferences held in different US and Canadian cities. Fortunately for me, since my return to Australia a few years ago, I have been able to represent SUGUNA as an appointed member of the Alumni Council.
On that note, I would like to encourage you, on behalf of the Alumni Council, to become active in the life of the university as alumni. The last few years have seen an enormous effort on the part of the university to emphasize the importance of alumni engagement through a range of programs and initiatives. There are 45 alumni associations, including a number overseas, with a total alumni community of 165,000. The Alumni Relations Office has developed a wide range of services to keep you connected with the university.
They include:
*The quarterly Sydney Alumni Magazine, SAM,
*ESydney, the monthly alumni e Newsletter
*The Alumni Card, which should be in your graduation pack today, giving access to the alumni online community to be launched shortly, with the opportunity to apply business and social networking services
*Access to the new Alumni Centre, which is planned on campus.
*A program of awards recognizing the outstanding achievements of alumni locally and outside of Australia in community service and in their professional field.
Let me encourage you to keep up your ties with the University in your new capacity as alumni.

Finally, congratulations again on your graduation and good luck in your future careers. You can make a great contribution to this wonderful country.