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2008 graduation ceremony address – Professor Dr Mahani Zainal Abidin

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The Acting Chancellor Mr Keith Spence, Vice Chancellor, Professor Jeanette Hacket, members of the University Council, distinguished guests, faculty members, graduates and your families, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be here in Curtin University, in this beautiful city of Perth. It is indeed an honour and a privilege for me to speak to the graduates tonight.

At the outset, let me just say that the Curtin University of Technology has made a very good impression on my colleagues and I at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur. Just a couple of weeks ago, a group of students from Curtin visited us as part of their Asia Study Tour. The students engaged us in a lively discussion on security and economic issues in the Asia-Pacific region for two hours. The discussion gave us an insight into the high quality of education that the students received at Curtin.

Dear graduates

Today is most likely to be one of the happiest days in your life and let me offer my heartiest congratulations to you all for successfully completing your studies. Today is to celebrate the past and present: it is the day to look back at the years on campus, to say “goodbye” to lecturers and friends and to preserve this moment in videos and photographs. It also marks an important point in your life’s journey because it is the start of a new beginning.

I can understand why you are happy – there are no more lectures, exams and assignments. As they say, it is time to break free. But you are only half right, or in some senses not right at all. You know that, after the cliche of “a well deserved break”, the reality will surge back, in the form of jobs and responsibility. A graduation ceremony tends to have all the trappings of a farewell party, with little to remind us that it really isn’t quite the end.

What would you say to a group of graduates who are about to build their careers in the coming years?

Just three short sentences

  1. Prepare to be flexible in charting your career
  2. Value life-long learning
  3. Be Ambassadors of goodwill

Be flexible in charting your career

A young man just finished his study, like all of you tonight. He sat down with his father and in seriousness said “Dad, I have laid down here my future career path. I want to be a financial controller of one of the top five companies in our country by the time I reach your age. What do you think of this plan?” The father looked at the plan and replied “Very good son but I suggest that you draw this plan in pencil instead of ink!”

Being single minded is good but also be prepared for changes because in this age of globalization we need to respond to the rapidly changing environment. You must be willing to adapt to sudden and radical changes. For many, their career paths change as they move along – they graduate in one field but end up in another. Along the way, they would have done five different types of job. Even if you stay in one career, the job requirements keep changing.

My husband is an accountant, who tells me that nothing has changed in accounting since 1492, when double entry bookkeeping was invented in Florence. Obviously, he has never heard of Enron or the Sarbanes and Oxley Act, or if he has heard, he has conveniently forgotten them. More recently the Societe General’s trader lost US$7.2 billion for his company and this loss severely impaired the company’s financial standing and reputation and questions the company’s financial governance. The knowledge that we acquire in universities is not enough. We have to continuously up-date our knowledge because of new regulations, requirements and developments in our work. Yet, although knowledge is necessary, it is not sufficient. Integrity is supremely important in our professional work and to be truly successful we have to keep the highest level of integrity.

Life-long learning

Your association with learning and the acquiring of knowledge does not end with this graduation ceremony. There may even be a return to study and the big E word – EXAMS! The exams that you may take in the future may not be as formal as what you have experienced and you may not be even aware that they are taking place, but you will be “evaluated” in one way or another for the entire length of your career. You will find out that learning is life-long. What and where to study? No one will set the timetable for your classes or give you a never-ending reading list. You may come to wistfully regard university as a very comfortable and supportive place, compared to the empty freedom in business, industry and commerce. You must take advantage of the vast learning opportunities out there to improve yourself. Nowadays, a bachelor degree is just to put a foot in the door. To progress in your career, an advanced qualification, be it academic, technical or professional, is often necessary. Fortunately, there are many ways of life-long learning, with on-line learning as one of the most popular and convenient methods.

Ambassadors of goodwill

Australia and Asia have a strong and unique relationship. Many of the graduates here tonight came from Asia while Australia’s economic and business presence in the region makes it an important partner for Asia. Curtin University, for example, has a branch in Malaysia, namely in Sarawak. Western Australia’s recent economic boom is partly attributed to high demand for minerals from China. I believe the graduates here can play a pivotal role in fostering further the Asia-Australia links. You must build on the friendship that has been forged during your studies here at Curtin. As future leaders in your field of work or in your countries, you can expand the existing relationships to encourage a better understanding of the culture, way of life and values for the various societies as well as create more economic and business opportunities. Today, we have many Asian students studying in Australia. I hope to see more Australian students studying in Asia in the near future.

Before I end this speech, I would like to invite you to join me in thanking the lecturers and staff of Curtin University for their immense contribution in your educational journey.

Let me conclude by wishing all the best for you graduates in your future undertaking.

Thank you and good night.

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