Remarks at the 2018 UNSW Alumni Awards

I also pay my respects to the Bedegal people on whose land we gather tonight and welcome our distinguished guests: NSW Governor, His Excellency, General The Honourable David Hurley; NSW Premier, The Honourable Gladys Berejiklian; The Honourable Gabrielle Upton; Chancellor of UNSW, Mr David Gonski.

Welcome all and welcome back to The Roundhouse to those who are seeing it in its ‘reborn’ state for the first time.

This iconic building has been a focal point of campus life over its 57 years and I’m sure many of you have wonderful – perhaps some foggy – memories of Bacchus Balls and live bands. But there is no more illustrious event held here than the Alumni Awards we celebrate tonight.

This is not only our chance to honour our alumni’s achievements, but proof that the influence of a university does not stop when our graduates don the cap and gown. Our alumni have studied across all disciplines, have come from every corner of the globe and become ambassadors for the excellence of teaching and research and the immense social and economic impact of UNSW.

We proudly lay claim to global CEOs, world-leading researchers, internationally-renowned designers, policymakers, sporting heroes, cultural icons, social entrepreneurs and dedicated philanthropists.

With alumni numbers now surpassing 300,000, the UNSW influence will only continue to grow. We have been holding these awards since 1972 and a look through the list of past recipients shows an enormous depth and breadth of accomplishment.

Names like Pat O’Shane, Eva Cox, Bob Carr, Turia Pitt, David Hurley and of course David Gonski are just a few of the 199 alumni we have honoured. Our awardees are an embodiment of what we hope to achieve as a university through our 2025 Strategy, to send our graduates out into the world with a sense of self and a sense of purpose; a strong social conscience and a desire to serve.

Tonight, we honour people who are living out that mission through their endeavours:
• An innovator and industry leader in communications and design.
• A philanthropist and financial services leader.
• A businesswoman, philanthropist and urbanist.
• A celebrated humanitarian engineer.
• A researcher whose work has saved an estimated eighteen and a half thousand premature deaths.
• An innovator and inventor who shares his ideas with the world.
• A businessman who has put his energy into the delivery and management of community service.
• A champion of women’s sport.
• The head of Ophthalmic Biophysics laboratory in India.
• And a medical student with a passion for global health issues and mentoring and teaching.

The areas of achievement are diverse, as they should be. A reflection of 21st century society and its changing needs.

Today, with our shift to a knowledge-based economy – with the value of ‘the idea’ rising exponentially – universities are one of this nation’s greatest assets. By our very nature, we are hubs where brilliant minds gather to think – an endangered pursuit in an era with pace and change as its hallmark.

But preserving a space to think, to discover and to innovate, is an absolute necessity if we are to find solutions to the world’s ‘grand challenges’ such as inequality, refugees and immigration and climate change. Universities are a rich resource to be tapped into by the community, by industry and by government for the good of the Australian people.

Universities matter. We often quantify our value in monetary terms – our contribution to the economy, the return on investment in research, the revenue from international education, the jobs created by our sector.

But it is what we can’t quantify that defines our enduring worth. And it is that, though impossible to measure, which is represented by the alumni we honour tonight. UNSW is proud to have played some part in their stellar achievements.

To all of our Alumni Awardees, I offer my heartiest congratulations.

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