Sophie Buckle’s valedictory speech

Sophie Buckle’s valedictory speech: Albury-Wodonga Graduation ceremony April 2013

First of all I would like to congratulate all the graduates on finishing your degrees. It is an amazing achievement and one that you and your families and friends should be very proud of. I have often said that university isn’t about being the smartest person it’s about having a drive, strong work ethic and dedication. Because to complete a degree because it requires hours upon hours of lectures, reading, textbooks, tutorials, assignments, hundreds of times saying ‘sorry I can’t come I have Uni work to do’, ‘sorry I have an assignment due tonight’, ‘argh this is just too hard’ and ‘I hate Uni’ to get you to the point where you can say “My hard work has paid off and I am proud of my effort”. Today is that day so enjoy it.

You may all be very relieved that you have finished with education and maybe formally you have but I know that this is just the beginning because learning doesn’t stop when we stop attending class. I honestly can’t remember a time when education wasn’t the focus of my life. I completed high school and entered straight into tertiary education and even though I have finished my undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Arts, I have now started a post graduate degree Master of Social Work; it’s safe to say that I am a product of my education. My mum said to me when I was younger that education is the richest resource that we can naturally give to future generations and it hasn’t been until I have grown up that I have come to realise how true that is.

Education evokes change, it expands your mind and for me the more I know the more I realise how much I don’t know. When I left school I had an idea what education was, it was about getting the highest marks and getting a job that paid a lot of money. I spent the first year of my degree with a similar mindset. It wasn’t until my second year that I began to change my views on education. I was studying Politics and International relations at that time and my lecturer was asked to give a lecture on the Middle East to the University of the Third Age, he asked me to come along and interview some of the members. I had never even heard of the University of the Third Age so I did what everyone does and I googled it. I found out that the University of the Third Age is groups of people who were in their third age of life. So when you’re a child you’re in the first age, when you become an adult you enter the second age and the third is when you retire. The Albury/Wodonga University of the third age comprised of such a diverse group of people and each of these people offered a lifetime of skills that they were willing to share with one another. I looked at the noticeboard with all the classes and found that there were a few I wouldn’t mind attending, but as I was firmly told I was far too young. This experience had a profound effect on me, it may sound really simple, but with this collaboration of shared knowledge I realised that education wasn’t just about getting the best mark, or a job paying the most money, education or learning was about being curious.

This then changed how I looked at my degree I found mistakes to be good as it was something that I could learn from. I looked at questions in different ways rather than having a mindset of that’s too hard I can’t do it, it made me do far  more than what I thought I would, I even wrote an essay on ‘Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East’! My degree enriched my life. I was privileged to study with refugee students who had a wealth of experience. When I first met one of my fellow class mates he had been in a refugee camp the same amount of years that I had been alive. Which amazed me as his culture and experience was such a rich addition to our classes. I also studied with many mature aged students who had children that were older than me or the same age, I also found this to be as beneficial as I realised how young and inexperienced I was amongst these people. It was the mix of students, their backgrounds, their experiences, their beliefs and values, fantastic lectures that taught me the most. It was the marriage of my formal education in my undergraduate degree with my informal that led me to social work. I found that I was heavily interested in social justice, inequality and disadvantage. I had learnt through my degree that every person has skills, experiences and knowledge that sets them apart from anyone else and in this people should be given the opportunity to use them. I had also learnt of my own social agency, of the power of standing up for what is right and as one of my lecturers told me the power of ‘being assertive’. I have begun my postgraduate course and I love it, I have such a passion towards my study that I know the next two years will really fly so I am going to make the most of it before heading into the ‘real world of work’. My education completely changed me as a person for the better and change is good, because if we are constantly changing then we are constantly growing and learning. I’ve read a quote that states “education isn’t what you learn; it’s about what you do with what you learn”. And this I believe sums up where most of the graduates are on a day like today.

So I would like to thank La Trobe University, the Wodonga campus for the emphasis it places on knowing its students by name rather than number, all of the lecturing staff from different faculties, all of the administration staff who help us out with some of the most fundamental questions we have, our friends and family for your patience, support and love.

Finally once again congratulations, I wish all the new graduates good luck in your future endeavours.