Vote of Thanks

Stephanie Joan Shing-Kelly

Saturday 28 March 2015

Transcript published here with permission:

Thank you Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Council members, distinguished guests, academic staff, fellow graduates, family and friends. I am honoured to have been asked to give the vote of thanks today on behalf of the graduating students from the Schools of Arts, Humanities and Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences.

To start with, I have a confession. I did not initially intend to come to UNE. Having lived in Armidale for the entirety of my high school years, I was, like many of my peers, fairly eager to get out and experience somewhere new. But, UNE was offering a brand new degree which caught my eye, the Bachelor of Historical Inquiry and Practice, and I must admit that the prospect of living on parental funds for a just a little while longer was also rather appealing.

I can say – without equivocation – that the decision to attend UNE was one of the best that I have ever made.

UNE provided exactly the environment that someone like me, quiet and lacking confidence, needed to flourish. It is a little difficult to hide in a class of just a few students. But more important than that was the sheer accessibility of the teaching staff, and the fact that they are sincerely invested in their students’ success.

I can honestly say that I would not be standing here today if it were not for the teachers and mentors who provided incredible support to me throughout my studies, and who indeed continue to do so even now that I am no longer a student. Academics such as Drs Richard Scully, Paul Brown, Sarah Lawrence, Tristan Taylor, Professor Greg Horsley, and above all Professor Thomas Fudge have performed – through their guidance and inspiring teaching – a pivotal role in shaping me not only into the scholar, but also the person that I am today. For that, I can never thank them enough.

I have absolutely no doubt that all of you who have graduated today can identify individuals who have had a similar impact on your university experience. As the Greek biographer and philosopher Plutarch suggested, the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. At UNE we have been truly lucky to have such ready contact with academic staff who have, for many of us, not only filled our minds with knowledge, but ignited or stoked a love of learning and a passion for our discipline that will endure long after graduation.

But we owe thanks not only to the teaching staff, but to all those, both within the Schools and without, whose assistance has contributed to our success. To professional staff – such as the School of Humanities’ wonderful academic coordinator, Trish Wright – who played a crucial role in the smooth progress of many of our degrees. To the library staff who fulfilled photocopy requests, dragged books out of storage, and showed us how to print for about the hundredth time. To the IT staff, who prevented or resolved many a technology-related crisis. And we mustn’t forget the purveyors of caffeine up top and at Bool, who were sometimes the only reason we made it through the long days on campus.

Thanks are due also, of course, to the family and friends who tolerated our incessant complaints about assignments, commiserated with our frustrations and disappointments, and celebrated our successes. My long-suffering husband would be the first to tell you that it is not just the students themselves who have made sacrifices in order for us to be here today.

Now I have always studied as an on campus student, so I cannot claim to speak to the experience of all graduates. I can say, however, that UNE has brought me into contact with fellow students located in every Australian state, and even with some located overseas. I have met, virtually or in person, students at every conceivable stage of life, studying for every conceivable reason. I have met students who are retired and are studying purely for the love of learning. I have met students who are returning to study in order to pursue a new career path. I have met students who manage to balance their study with a full time job or a family, or even, incredibly, both. My university experience has been so much richer for being able to learn with and learn from such a diverse range of people, some of whom I will remain in contact with for a long time to come. This diversity, is, I believe, a true strength of UNE.

For those graduating, whether today marks the end of your formal education, or you are going on to further study, I am a firm believer in lifelong learning. To borrow a motto depicted in the stained glass of our very own Booloominbah: ‘Cease not to learn until thou cease to live.’ The skills that we have gained during our time at UNE – most especially the ability to think, and to question – will serve us well no matter what path we choose to take in life.

On that note, I think that it is fitting to end with a quote by my favourite author, the legendary Sir Terry Pratchett, who sadly passed away earlier this month: ‘If you trust in yourself…and believe in your dreams…and follow your star…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.’ So on behalf of all the graduates today, who are here because they worked hard, learned things, and weren’t so lazy, I say to UNE, and to all those who helped us along the way – thank you!

Stephanie Joan Shing-Kelly
Bachelor of Arts with Honours - First Class Honours
University Medal and Edgar H Booth Memorial Prize and Medal