Graduation Address – August 2023
Welcome to the 2023 UBSS Graduation Ceremony here at the magnificent Sydney Opera House. For thousands of years this land has been a meeting place of people coming together. Today we come together to confer you as graduates of your degrees and more importantly to celebrate your outstanding achievements.
I stand before you today not only as a speaker, but as a fellow survivor of the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 and the "mute-unmute" button battles of virtual learning and survivor of lockdowns during COVID-19. You are the graduates who can now proudly add "mastered Zoom and Teams" to your resumes. But here we are, victorious, resilient, and ready to take on the world in this new normal after the COVID-19 rollercoaster.
First and foremost, let's give a round of applause to our families, friends and pets who have endured our constant Zoom meetings, paper piles, and occasional victory dances. Thank you for your patience and support as we navigated the uncharted waters of remote learning and turned living rooms and bedrooms into makeshift libraries. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Now, let's talk about the new normal. Yes, that's the era where "you're on mute" became the unofficial catchphrase of the world. We've learned to multitask like never before—juggling online classes, Netflix binges, and cooking experiments that occasionally tested if the smoke alarms still work.
But jokes aside, the new normal is not just about wearing masks, mastering the art of social distancing or working out how far you can travel during lockdowns. It's about the way we've adapted and thrived despite the challenges thrown our way. We've seen unprecedented acts of kindness and innovation that prove that no virus can suppress the human spirit.
We became experts in finding the perfect Zoom background to hide the chaos of our surroundings. We've embraced technology with open arms, turning our bedrooms into lecture halls and our laptops into gateways to knowledge.
As you venture into a post-COVID world, armed with degrees and a newfound respect for hand sanitizer, let's not forget the importance of real connections. While emojis and GIFs have their charm, nothing beats the joy of face-to-face interactions, the warmth of a genuine smile, or the thrill of a spontaneous high-five.
There have been changes to the new normal of COVID-19, but many things have returned. We yearn for personal connection and a sense of community. This has been witnessed in cultural events, such as Sydney with the Vivid Sydney light festival in June breaking attendance records. Also at sporting events such as the recent attendance at all the Women’s World Cup games across Australia and New Zealand also breaking previous attendance records, as well as TV viewing records.
This is experienced globally as people have returned to movie cinema, with Barbenheimer. You know Barbenheimer. Barbie the movie and Oppenheimer the biggest global box office opening weekend, which occurred last month. I attended the cinema to see Oppenheimer on the opening weekend. I saw the mix of mainly older cinema goers attending a movie on a turning point in the world’s history in the middle of the 20th Century. I also saw mothers and daughters in pink outfits and cowboy hats sharing the experience of Barbie. (I wasn’t wearing my pink cowboy hat).
The new normal is an opportunity to reshape industries, challenge conventions, and dare to dream beyond the confines of what we thought was possible. Remote work, virtual collaboration, hybrid learning and digital transformations are no longer just buzzwords, but the tools that will shape our careers and communities. Now we also have the new world of generative artificial intelligence, with the opportunities and challenges this brings.
So, graduates, let's embrace the challenges, dance through the uncertainties, and find humour in the quirks of the new normal. Our resilience is the ultimate accessory we wear beneath our masks, reminding us that no matter what comes our way, we've got the wit, the grit, and the hand sanitizer to conquer it all.
You have this lived experience of enduring a difficult time of studying which is difficult in itself, but also you have developed a wealth of skills that will set you up for life enduring COVID-19. To adapt to new world, shift to online learning, overcome digital fatigue of hours viewing the screen, re-connecting after limited social interaction, as we value family and friends even more after adversity. Also the ability to time manage, develop self learning and internal motivation to see the long journey of study to the end. These skills have set you up for life.
Congratulations, Graduates of 2023. Your journey through this "new normal" has prepared you to face anything that life throws your way, armed with hand sanitizer and a hearty laugh. Today is a day of celebration. I congratulate you all.
Dr Andrew West is an Adjunct Professor at Group Colleges Australia