Occasional Address, Graduation Ceremony, UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences 13 May 2024

Julie with Alan Davison, Dean, UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Science

Let me begin by acknowledging the Deputy Chancellor, Dr John Laker AO; Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Kate McGrath; Members of Council, staff, distinguished guests, graduates and their family and friends.

Thank you to the university for the invitation to speak to you today. It is an honour to be here.

I want to begin by acknowledging a big thank you to UTS. I have spent most of my working life interviewing people as a live radio presenter and hosting interactive panel discussions at seminars and conferences across Australia. My very first experience of interviewing people on live radio was in this tower block on 2SERFM.  The radio station at this university.

When I applied for my first job at ABC Radio, I gave them audio tapes of my on-air work from right here at 2SERFM. And I got the job! So a big thank you to UTS!

But today I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk to about you. The people graduating today and your family and friends.

FIRSTLY, a huge congratulations to the graduates for completing your course.

It is a massive achievement to finish all those assignments, to write all those essays, and to complete all those exams.

To get to this Graduation Day you have developed important emotional & psychological life skills.

You have shown persistence and resilience. You have managed stress and anxiety. You have met deadlines. And if you couldn’t meet a deadline, you have developed the negotiation skills to get extra time and meet the course requirements somehow. It’s hard to finish these courses and you have done it. Well done!

SECONDLY, I want to recognise and congratulate the family and friends here today. Thank you for everything you have done to support these students to complete their course. Thank you for valuing university education and encouraging the graduates here today to do the same. I would like to honour my Mum and Dad who supported their five children to each get university degrees.

I thank my Father who supported higher education for his three daughters, as well as his two sons. He treated us equally which hasn’t always been the case. I thank my Mother, who left school at 13, and who made sure her children got the educational opportunities she missed out on. My mother had the great gift of Curiosity. She inspired her children to be curious as well. Mum read widely and she encouraged us to read. She gave us books by great authors and she talked to us about those books. Mum gave me books, at a very young age, by writers like George Orwell, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham. These are British writers. My Mum was from London. Many of your writers and intellectual traditions will be from other parts of the world, or from Indigenous traditions here in Australia.

Thank you to all the parents, family and friends who encouraged our graduates today to read and think and discuss ideas.

One of the greatest pleasure of my life right now is reading to my grandchildren and talking to them about those books. When our little two year old grandson, Jude came home from his first day at pre-school a few weeks ago, we celebrated as a family with a cake. His educational journey had begun!

Now it is the custom at graduations for the speaker to offer some suggestions for your future life. My suggestion is to take the time over the next couple of days to write down three things about your university experience that you want to remember. Write down three things that are valuable to you. Three things that you want to hold onto and nurture so that they are always part of your life. To help you get started, I’ll tell you 3 things that my university courses have given me that are incredibly important to me still.

The first is good friends from university. I am so grateful to have close friends that I met when I did my first university course back in the 1970s. My two closest friends started university with me in 1972. We will all turn 70 this year. We are still discussing books, ideas, national and international affairs and how to improve the world. We were drawn together by intellectual curiosity years ago, and we are still curious. Hang onto your friends because they make life worth living.

The second thing I value from university is the importance of getting my information from the highest quality, evidence-based sources. And then making the effort to critically assess the information. University taught me to read different points of view. To probe, reflect and assess evidence. The best example I can give you about why this is so important is the time when my life depended on the best quality evidence.

Eleven years ago, I was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. My multidisciplinary cancer team had a big meeting to decide what treatment would give me the best chance of survival. They relied on the best quality medical evidence, largely from randomised control trials. My cancer team read the latest evidence from leading peer-reviewed medical journals. Journals like The New England Journal of Medicine, which is considered the world’s leading medical journal.

And at the Multidisciplinary Team Meeting the doctors, allied health professionals and nurses debated among themselves what was the best treatment for me. In Australia we have some of the highest survival rates for cancer in the world. It is because of this evidence-based approach,  combined with critical assessment of all available evidence, by people with clinical expertise.

Part of my studies here at UTS was learning how to teach adults to read and write. After university I taught reading and writing to Australian-born adults and adult migrants at TAFE. To be an effective teacher, we need to be as committed to evidence and reading the latest, high-quality journals as the clinicians in my cancer team. That’s what I learnt at university, and I have tried to apply that to all my work.

I would also encourage you to speak up and share your point of view, even if the majority of your colleagues or community have a different point of view. If you believe your point of view is valid and supported by good quality evidence, try to have the courage to speak up and argue your case.

This can be hard to do, but it is so important for innovation and achieving the best results for our community.

A principle that helps me, when there is hot pressure to accept one point of view, is this quote attributed to the English philosopher & psychologist, Herbert Spencer:

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

The third thing the very best teachers at university gave me was hope. The world right now can be characterised as full of conflict and challenges. There is conflict in the Middle East, Ukraine and many other countries. There are challenges with climate change, the spread of misinformation and disinformation on the Internet and the bewildering capacity of Artificial Intelligence to make the unreal, appear real, so we are not sure if we can believe what we see.

However, the best teachers at schools and universities and in public life bring hope to the next generations.

I am afraid armed conflict is not new. My grandparents from Australia and the United Kingdom served in World War 1 in Europe. My parents from Australia and the United Kingdom served in World War 2 in Europe. My grandparents and parents, like so many millions of others, rebuilt their lives after war.

In both generations, education was critical to their resilience. Education brings hope. Here is where I find hope.

The Internet and Artificial Intelligence offer benefits and opportunities that will far outweigh the challenges. To return to the example of cancer care, the Internet has made it possible for researchers to collaborate and communicate new research much more quickly and this is saving countless lives already. Artificial Intelligence is improving the early detection and diagnosis of cancer and developing new treatments.

Combatting Climate Change, like so many wicked problems, requires political leadership and community support as well as scientific know how.

We will combine the insights of higher education and research with our commitment to a better future for the children and grandchildren of the world and we will meet the challenges of climate change. We will do the best we can. Just as our ancestors did.

I’ve told you three things university education has given me gave me that I value: good friends with intellectual curiosity; a commitment to the best evidence and critical thinking; and hope. I’d love to hear the three things you value that university education has given you. If you’d like to let me know, you can email me via my website at www.juliemccrossin.com. And I promise I will reply to you. I wish you all the very best for your future adventures.

Presenter: Julie McCrossin AM


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