Finding your own way
At the 2017 Commencement ceremony, Jamila Rizvi, BComm ‘10, LLB ’10 – among the most influential young voices in Australia – told new students that going to University was about becoming a citizen of the world. She encouraged them to think for themselves and set their own expectations, rather than remaining captive to those of their parents. And she revealed she met the love of her life, on campus. Here is her Commencement Address:
This is a place where people think and strive, imagine and accomplish.
I’d like to acknowledge that we meet today on the lands of the Ngunnawal people. I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
Welcome, my friends, to the Australian National University. Today you join a new fraternity, a new fellowship and a new family. You become a student at one of the greatest educational institutions in the world and most certainly the finest in this country.
Over the next three, four, five, or in some cases 10 years, you will learn more than you ever dreamed possible. You will have your capabilities stretched, your understanding challenged and your ability to reason honed.
Some of the world’s best minds work and teach right here at ANU. To have the opportunity to learn from them is tremendous. Pay attention, respect and be grateful to them. Even when they’re teaching STAT1001, which will be – I promise you – the most mind-numbingly, boring semester of your life.
While I know it all seems very theoretical right now, this is the place where your adult character will be shaped. It’s the place where you will learn what kind of person you will be and what contribution you will make.
That contribution may not turn out to be what you think and hope it will today. ‘Success’ will likely look very different to you in a decade’s time.
Australia and the world feel like they are changing faster than ever before. With that comes opportunity but also uncertainty. Your generation – which I think I technically still get to count as the same as my own – faces a future that looks very different to what our parents did.
Most of you will work to support yourselves while at University. Some will work more than you will study. Most of you will graduate with a HECS debt. Few of you will own a house before you have children. Fewer still will have a single career for life, but instead skip and hop between industries and specialties.
I want you to know that is okay. Change is okay. There’s nothing wrong with doing it differently to the people who came before you. There’s nothing wrong with setting you own expectations, rather than remaining captive to those of your parents.
Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order." As the newest members of the ANU family, this is your task, too.
First, to preserve what the ANU stands for – Australia’s intellectual gateway to the world and the vehicle by which we take our seat at the table of civilised nations.
And second, to be part of the University’s continual evolution to meet the demands of a changing Australia and a changing world. Key in this is to know what you are willing to let go and what you are prepared to fight for.
That is what you will learn at ANU and it’s far more important than remembering an equation or a particular piece of case law or that famous philosopher’s quote.
Now, some of that learning will happen in the classroom but the bulk of it will take place outside. Over the course of your degree, you will learn just as much from your peers as you will from your teachers.
I want you to remember that University is about more than books. It is about more than timetables and exams and lecture theatres and libraries. It is about more than who gets pass marks and who gets high distinctions. It is about more than caps and gowns. It is about more than essays and oral presentations.
It is – and this is a big one – about more than beer.
University is about becoming a citizen of the world. I want to quote another great philosopher, Coach Taylor from the Friday Night Lights. You’re the Netflix generation, so I know you know what I mean. Before every game, Coach Taylor and his players shout out, “Clear eyes, full hearts – Can’t lose”.
Here at ANU your teachers will help you strengthen your minds. But it is your peers who will be the ones that keep your eyes clear and your hearts full.
Halfway through my third year at ANU, I was running for student elections and handed a pamphlet to a good-looking, nerdy guy walking through Union Court. We got married last year.
During my first week of University, I sat next to a blonde-haired, cardigan-wearing girl who looked like she’d starred in Foundations of Australian Law. She was bridesmaid at our wedding.
I’d like to end on a somewhat sombre note – I do hope that’s okay.
It’s fashionable at the beginning of a speech like this one to bemoan how old you’ve gotten, to spend a few moments reflecting wistfully on a misspent youth and meditating on one’s own mortality. You’ll notice that I didn’t do that – here’s why.
My friends, in a shockingly short period of time, the people standing around you will be running the country. That is not a joke. It is a fact. I am 30 years old and since graduating from ANU, my peers are already saving lives, building cities, publishing books, running media outlets and taking seats in parliament.
And some of them never got the chance.
It’s been seven years since I graduated and already there are people who I studied with, who I worked with, who I partied with and who I loved, who are no longer living.
Looking out at this sea of irrepressibly eager and impossibly young faces, I can appreciate the sentiment of regret and longing to be young again. It is sad to know that the great joys ahead of each of you are now behind those of us standing on stage.
But I am not sad about the passing of time. I am grateful for it.
Getting older is a privilege and it is not one that is extended to us all.
Today, mostly having not even entered your twenties, you feel invincible. I get that. So did I.
Hold on to that feeling because it won’t be there forever and nor will you.
I don’t say all this to depress you but to implore you to give everything you’ve got to this experience. Don’t hold back.
The next stage of your lives is a glorious one. Soak up every second of it, every minute, every hour, every day, week, every semester, every year.
The ANU community is unlike any other and you should feel honoured to become part of it today. This is a place where people think and strive, imagine and accomplish. It is a place where anything is possible and with its future in your hands, I know that the University’s trajectory will continue to soar.
Clear eyes, full hearts – Can’t lose.
I can’t wait to see what you do next.