10 May 2018
Australian Catholic University graduation
Professor Margot Hillel, Dr Stephen Weller, Members of the Senate of the Australian Catholic University, Acting Associate Vice-Chancellor (NSW), Associate Professor McArdle, distinguished guests, graduands, families and friends, it is a great pleasure to be here today.
May I begin by paying my respects to the elders, past, present and emerging, of the Dharug/Dharruk peoples, the traditional custodians of the land on which we celebrate today, and I particularly acknowledge any indigenous graduates and guests attending today.
In speaking to you this afternoon, I want to talk about the value of education and of faith, sharing a little of my own story and linking my present role as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission to the Australian Catholic University’s commitment to fostering a just society.
Each of you here today recognises the value of education—especially those who are graduating for the second, or even third times. For me, ‘education’ has been a constant theme in my life, influenced very much by my own family, particularly my mother.
My mother is one of seven children, including four daughters, born from the 1910s to the 1920s. Their father, Dr John Howard Lidgett Cumpston, was the first Commonwealth Director General of Health of the new Commonwealth. Like Saint Thomas More, one of the patron saints of the Faculty of Law and Business, my grandfather considered the education of his daughters an important priority. Both St Thomas and my grandfather insisted that their daughters received the same educational opportunities as their sons.
In my mother’s generation this was an exceptional standard of education that my grandfather created as ‘the norm’ for his children. Such a standard, as an experience and aspiration, influenced me profoundly. I recall my mother undertaking her PhD during my high school years and the ‘tap tap tap’ of the typewriter long into the night (well before PCs).
My 96-year-old father, who became Chief Judge of the Compensation Court of NSW, was the first in his family to go to university—as was my husband. No doubt, many of you, or your parents today may also be the first in your families to go to university. Here, at a graduation ceremony, we all bear witness to the value of education.
Sharing this day with you are those whose love and support helped you to this point—your families, your teachers and your university. They truly appreciate the value of a university degree as a shared experience of a family.
Education is a great treasure, but education alone is not enough. It is what you do with it and how you use it to inform taking responsibility in a meaningful way on a daily basis. Education also enables you to see the possible in life and to aspire for what can be.
This now takes me into the world of human rights. For Saint Mary MacKillop, the patron saint of the university, respect for the dignity of all people was an abiding principle. Dignity is the essential right linking all of the international conventions to which Australia has committed and respect is its cornerstone.
The 10th of December this year marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the then newly constituted United Nations. It is a most significant anniversary in the world of human rights.
In researching the introduction of this key human rights charter, I was particularly taken by the role of Eleanor Roosevelt. The recently widowed Mrs Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D Roosevelt, President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945, was asked to chair the committee that led the drafting of the Universal Declaration. She felt this responsibility keenly and embarked upon it with considerable trepidation.
When the time came for departure for London from New York, “she did what had to be done”, as her biographer wrote: “She donned her hat and coat, tossed her trademark fox furs over her shoulder, and boarded the ocean liner still painted grey from use as a troop ship.” But to her daughter Anna she wrote privately that, “‘tho the responsibility seems great, I’ll just do my best and trust in God”. For Mrs Roosevelt, faith was essential in shaping how she took responsibility in her life, and her faith became a guide to her in undertaking the great task of the Committee she chaired.
I would like to conclude my address by sharing with you all Mrs Roosevelt’s prayer. It may also provide a guide to you in your lives:
Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life.
Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off goals. Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.
Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying; make us sure of the good we cannot see and of the hidden good in the world.
Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us and our hearts to the loveliness men hide from us because we do not try to understand them.
Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of the world made new.
Thank you for allowing me the honour of presenting the address today. Like Mrs Roosevelt, set your eyes on far off goals and help foster a vision of a ‘world made new’.