Remarks to new students at UNSW’s 2018 Undergraduate Welcome

Thank you, Jan, and thank you all – our new students, your parents, families and no doubt more than a few alumni, and our staff – for being here tonight.

I would also like to acknowledge the Bedegal people who are the Traditional Custodians of this land, to pay my respects to the Elders both past and present and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are present here today.

To our new students first – I offer you the warmest of welcomes to the University of NSW. If you are sitting in this hall tonight, it has not happened by chance. You are here because you have worked hard to earn a place at one of the top 100 universities in the world.

You are joining UNSW at one of the most exciting times in its history:
• our UNSW Scientia Professor of Quantum Physics, Michelle Simmonds, was recently named 2018 Australian of the Year
• we welcome our first Nobel Laureate to our staff – Sir Fraser Stoddart – who has been appointed to our Chemistry School
• the latest rankings put us in the top three Australian universities for graduates finding jobs, and
• at the end of last year, we announced our plans for the university to be carbon neutral by 2020.

And they are just a few of the things that are happening here. You have chosen an institution that has bold aspirations. We are driving change in the university sector so that we cement our place in the world as servants of the local, national and global community.

If I could sum up our 2025 Strategy – which I’m sure you have all read and could recite for me – It has three core aims: firstly, to achieve excellence in education and research; secondly, to encourage social engagement and responsibility; and thirdly, to have a global impact. It is ambitious. It is altruistic. And it is a noble foundation for your future – and you start laying that foundation today.

You have opened the door to study at the highest level, to meeting talented people from many backgrounds, and to explore all the possibilities of exciting careers – some of which people of your parents’ and my vintage had never even imagined.

Of course, university is also great fun, and we want you to embrace the wonderful social aspects of life on campus. Given it is O week, there’s a good chance of there being a party or two on campus – which gives you the chance to meet new people and we encourage you to do so.

But do in the knowledge that you are now part of a community and that means embracing the vibrant diversity of our student cohort and treating each other with respect.

Discrimination and harassment of any sort will not be tolerated at UNSW. We know people over 18 will drink alcohol, and there are times that will be appropriate on campus, but we do not tolerate excessive alcohol consumption or illegal drugs.

However, as a community, we look out for each other. If you see someone who has consumed too much alcohol, see that they’re safe. Our staff and security team are here to help if required.

I say this tonight because it is our responsibility to ensure that you understand at the beginning of your studies what UNSW expects and what you can expect from us.

But equally important is for you to understand that choices you make at this time of your life can alter your destiny, and I do not say that lightly. We want you to have a successful, happy time at UNSW and feel supported and safe.

And I am sure that is what your parents wish for you too. For them, this is both a momentous and emotional time as you move to the next stage of your lives.

It is often quite surreal for us as parents when our children head off to university. We feel like it was only yesterday that we waved you off on your first day of Kindergarten.

I assure you that the academic and professional staff here at UNSW share your wish that your children have a happy, fulfilling time at UNSW, leaving here well-equipped for a rounded, successful life and career.

On such a milestone occasion, we remember this great university’s history. First as The Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts in 1833, then Sydney Technical College in 1878 and reaching university status in 1949.

Our coat of arms is an homage to our heritage – Scientia Manu et Mente, ‘Knowledge by Hand and Mind’. Today our education and research efforts touch on virtually all aspects of human society. We provide academic excellence through our world class research and teaching innovation in medicine, science, engineering, business, law, arts, built environment and design.

We are working hard on many fronts to improve and expand our offerings – especially with the use of digital technology – to shape the future of higher education.

Our Inspired Learning Initiative will impact all of you as we continue to improve the quality, flexibility and personalisation of our curriculum. This puts UNSW educators and students at the frontier of educational innovation and that is enormously exciting.

We are also very proud of alumni. Highly successful business people stand alongside brilliant researchers and creative geniuses whose ideas and discoveries have literally changed the world – but please don’t feel any pressure!

We are ‘Australia’s Global University’, with international perspectives and outlooks, a high percentage of overseas students and staff from many cultures — something of which we are proud and something of which you should take full advantage.

We are a mature university but our ethos and approach remains youthful, dynamic and innovative. And part of that is our drive for partnership and collaboration. I cannot stress enough how important this is in an age where life moves fast and the unmet needs of society are many and multiplying.

If we are to find the answers, we need to bury any ego and work towards a common goal. I want this generation of students and researchers to be the one which sets the example of just what can be achieved through generosity of partnership.

So, in finishing I have some thoughts I’d like to share some advice based on my time as a student, my experience as a parent and my years at some of the world’s great universities.

First tip is – engage! Be proactive. Be open to meeting new people and doing new things. The more you put in the more you will get out of being part of this energetic and eclectic community. The second tip is balance. From this point and throughout your life, strive to achieve a sensible and healthy balance in everything you do – work and fun, family and friends…and your parents have asked me to add between ‘spending and saving money’. And thirdly, perhaps most importantly, never take for granted the incredible privilege of being part of a great university.

You are among a very small percentage of people on the entire planet who, with the talent you have and an outstanding education, can make a great difference to the lives of people around the globe. Each of us who benefit from a university education of the quality UNSW can provide, carries with us a responsibility to act for the greater good of society.

With that thought, I wish you the best of luck as you begin your university life. The next few days will be a time you never forget and the next few years at UNSW will shape your lives.

In future years you will look back on this time as amongst the very best, most exciting and most enlightening of your life. Embrace it and enjoy it. Thank you.

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