Valedictor-erin

12/30/2015

  • science communication
  • public speaking
  • student

Graduate once (undergrad), well done you.

Graduate twice (honors), oh, OK.

Graduate thrice (PhD)... They let you give a talk, it seems.

Australian National University, Llewellyn Hall, 2pm Wednesday 16th December 2015, I donned my delightfully floppy hat, eschewed the PhD student flock, and attached myself to the formal procession of impressive academics.

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Nope, not gatecrashing, I had a legit reason to be there amongst the fantastic range of academic gowns on stage.

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They let me on the mic! Ok, for those unfamiliar with the Western uni system, it's tradition to have one of the graduating cohort give a short shiny-eyed talk about their student experience, or the future, or something thematically related. I decided to throw my hat in the ring (why not!), and solemnly promised not to talk about irrelevant stuff. Mostly.

You can watch the video below.

 

Of course, I had to write things out word-for-word for approval, which makes sharing the transcript here for posterity all the more convenient!

Good afternoon, fellow graduands, family and friends, and staff of the ANU.

Graduands, I want you to step back and think of where you were when you received your acceptance letter. Remember the feeling of the future opening up before you. For some of us, this letter meant a profound change in everyday life; moving to a new city, even a new country. For all of us, it was a doorway to the greatest mental workout program imaginable.

Think of who you were when you stepped onto this vast campus for the first time… And then got horribly lost because it spans 358 acres, building 25 is next to building 109, and for some reason the physics lecture theatre is in the psychology building. Even after eight years, I’m finding new cafes, hidden little courtyards, and though I really should know better by now taking ‘shortcuts’ that absolutely do not lead to where I was hoping to end up.

This campus is more than a sometimes labyrinthine substrate for our learning. It’s that lecture theatre when you first grasped a complex concept. The tutorial room where you met lifelong friends and partners. The grassy bank where you shared a meal with new friends… but not during assessment period because the fluff is there to make sure everyone is inside studying at the threat of hay fever.

We have all shared the experience of assessment tunnel vision, when an upcoming assignment or exam blot out the sky and the concept of family and friends becomes eclipsed by The Due Date. Not to mention the long, long gestation period of a thesis. Indefinite gratitude is due to the patience and support of family and friends, these sometimes neglected pillars of our existence. Much of our achievement in graduating today belongs to them as well. Friends and family, be sure to have a turn wearing those mortar boards and bonnets. You’ve earned it.

Some of our triumph today also belongs to our lecturers, tutors and mentors. Everyone who led us through the intellectual rabbit warren of university level study. You have shown us so much more than the bread and butter of knowledge and facts. Thanks to you, our time at ANU has been characterised by new ideas and perspectives. It has changed us from curious, (metaphorically and sometimes physically) lost novices into the scientists and thinkers we are today.

Just as we have grown intellectually at our time at the ANU, our relationships with other students and staff has grown. Inside and outside of the lecture theatre, we have enjoyed a vibrant student community. Together we have groaned at assessment and also grown as people. As for the lecturers, many have morphed from hallowed figures of astounding intellect into friends (still with astounding intellect, but don’t tell them I said that). Thanks to their expertise, wisdom and insight, we graduate today with brains filled with so much information. More importantly, we graduate with a remarkable capacity to continue to learn on our own, and meaningfully apply our knowledge as we embrace the future.

Beyond the usual thrill of captive audience (albeit time limited), the best thing about giving the talk was that I got to sit up on stage. This meant I was wonderfully close to the procession of people crossing the stage, walking on as Mr. Ms. Ms (etc) to my right, and walking off as Dr. to my left. The pride was infectious (especially when my best PhD buddy, the wonderful Yiyun Shou passed by and we got to share a grin).

If anyone reading this is heading for graduation, and talks are given at some point, I'd whole-heartedly recommend you give it a crack. It makes a special day all the more special(erer).

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