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Faculty of Business and Law - Occasional speaker

The Hon Robert Nicholson AO, HON LL.D. (ECOWAN)

Sunday, 16 March 2008, 1.00pm


Pro-chancellor, Vice-chancellor, members of the university, graduates and distinguished guests all: First may I say that today all the focus is on those who graduate. It is my honour to graduate with you. It is my pleasure to warmly congratulate all of you.

Congratulations are appropriate because the graduation provides the occasion to remember and acknowledge a number of matters intrinsic to enabling it to occur.

Earning an undergraduate degree requires hard work characterised by discipline and application - with some fun in between. Now is not the moment to explore how undergraduates can have fun!

It requires money: for living and for university expenses.

It attracts the support of those close to you: spouses, partners, family, siblings, those you treasure.

It may be characterised by the assistance you have received from university lecturers and staff. In some cases they may even have lit the fire of intellectual curiosity within you.

So the moment of graduation - when the Chancellor or Pro-chancellor shakes your hand and passes to you the record of your degree or diploma - is truly a symbolic moment: a measure of the years involved and the contribution of yourself and others to it. It is an occasion to thank the others and sing your praises and to encourage you forward to further achievements in the next stage of your life.

Secondly, let me mention the relevance of the university to your lives after graduation. University education and the form and structure which it should take is always in the news. That is so because it involves large sums of public and private money.

Governments of alternative persuasion see different ways to achieve a form and structure for university education which will develop individuals and advance Australia. We will shortly see that reflected in enunciation of new education policy by the recently elected Australian Federal Government.

Give some thought to whether you want to contribute to the next span of public debate on such issues.

However you feel about that, I hope you can remember this university as one which was memorable. Above all, as one which not only informed your mind but stirred it at the same time.

This university is one of Australia's remarkable new universities. The outstanding development of its Joondalup Campus, the re-forging of its Mount Lawley Campus and the continuance of its splendid South West Campus at Bunbury hold out great promise to those wishing to learn.

What fantastic facilities of world standard are to be found for example in the Health and Wellness Centre, the science building or the new library.

Of course this university or other universities could define your life. You could move into university teaching, research or administration. There are 37 universities in Australia and they all need talent to staff the development of the careers and research which they promote. Thirdly, if you commence or continue a career outside universities remember the quality which they have urged you to take with you. What ought these be?

One will hopefully be a lifelong interest in learning. Never stop asking Why. Our Australian Nobel laureate Peter Doherty has said that 'whether you have been diligent in your studies or not, what a university education should have given you is the capacity to reason and to think your way through to implications and consequences.' (i) If this university has awoken your mind to the possibility of the need for life-long thinking and learning it will have done much for you and is mission.

Another quality is a mind attuned to areas beyond your chosen area of engagement. For example, issues of the environment, of poverty or injustice may involve you as an educated member of the community even though they lie to the side of your direct career path.Yet another quality may be the possession of a lively interest in the whole world. Trying to make sense of the world and see where it is going.

A further one is the joy of balancing your chosen area of work with the rich intellectual pleasures of other areas. For example, literature, poetry, history, music. If you are a person of faith, engagement in your faith.

If you seek to give public expression to your views remember not to lose the undergraduate propensity to challenge public pomposity or stupidity. As Salman Rushdie said on the occasion of a commencement address (ii):

'...In the years to come you will find yourselves up against gods of all sorts, big and little gods, corporate and incorporeal gods, all of them demanding to be worshipped and obeyed - the myriad deities of monkey and power, of convention and custom, that will seek to limit and control our thoughts and lives. Defy them; .... thumb your nose; cock your snooks. For, as the myths tell us, it is by defying the gods that humanbeings have best expressed their humanity.'

Let's hope ECU has done some of that for you. Let's hope that its aspirational architecture and what occurs within it has inspired you in thosegoals of learning: namely, the strengthening of your mind and intellect to take on the world.

Fourthly, I realise that I am addressing an audience mostly graduating in Business Law. Law is a new faculty at ECU. May I welcome its arrival. Its presence on campus along with Business Law will enrich and enlarge the disciplines on ECU campuses.

Law is essential because it states the values which order our lives. By giving recognition to the law as enacted by parliament and evolved incases in the courts, the continuance of democracy is ensured. Democracy may not be the easiest form of government but it is the one by whichour nation has chosen to live. Law is the centrepiece to continuing the application of chosen rules for social living when they have been madeby the appropriate sources.

So business lawyers, maybe look beyond your area to the wider fields of law and take out a further degree form ECU's Law faculty. Finally, let us all use this occasion to take inspiration from Edith Cowan herself. Emerging from enormously tragic family circumstances, she unleashed a torrent of energy on the Western Australian justice system. From the viewpoint of women and children in particular, she made great improvements. Moving on into state parliament as the first woman to do so, she obtained the enactment of the Women's Legal Status Act, giving to the women the right to participate in vocations previously only open to men. She richly deserves the honours now given to her name on the $50 banknote and in this university. She is a role model for us all and by inspiration to all graduates of this institution bearing her name.

So graduates, move on but take with you the very rich legacy of this university. I am enormously honoured to share it with you.Good luck to you all!

(i)

Professor Peter Doherty AC, speech, UTS Graduation for Faculty of Science, 16 May 2003

(ii)

Salman Rushdie, Commencement Address, Bard College 25 May 1996

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