Australian National University 2015 Alumnus of the Year Award
The National Gallery of Australia
Parkes, Canberra, Australia
March 28, 2015
Introduction and Acknowledgements
Thank you very much, Chancellor Evans, for those extremely kind and flattering words, which I deeply appreciate, and thank you for the great privilege and honor of being the Australian National University Alumnus of the Year for 2015.
This is an award that I will always treasure as a memory of some of most productive, fulfilling, and exciting times in my life, in the intellectual paradise that I will always remember my years at ANU as being, in the matchless surrounds of the most beautiful campus in Australia.
Indeed, I count myself as blessed that I have been able to spend so much of my academic career at two such institutions on opposite sides of the world.
My thanks also to Vice Chancellor Young and to other senior members of his administration, and to all the other members of the university who were responsible for supporting my nomination and selection for this award.
I particularly want to thank Dean Toni Makkai, dean of the College of Arts and Social Sciences, the successor to the school where I did my PhD and on whose faculty I served for many years.
I am also delighted and honored that my sister Diana was able to attend tonight, as well as many friends and close colleagues from various phases of my life: former ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor, Robin Stanton and Kate Gilbert; former Chief of CSIRO’s IT Division, John O’Callaghan and Jan Bain; former Ambassador and High Commissioner to Canada, Louise Hand (who incidentally went to the same high school as I did); former Ambassador to the United States and Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dennis Richardson and Betty Richardson; and the distinguished journalist Jane Cadzow.
I want to especially acknowledge Robin and John as superb colleagues of the greatest integrity and vision, and I remain extremely proud of all we achieved together.
My only regret is that my beloved wife Laurie could not be with me tonight.
Years at the Australian National University
It was just over 40 years ago—in January of 1975—that my late wife Andrea and I first arrived in Canberra where I was to begin a PhD at ANU after completing my first degree at the University of Queensland.
I had visited ANU for a conference in 1974 and was dazzled by the beauty of the campus and the brilliance of the intellectual environment. I resolved during that visit to come to ANU to do a PhD, and, in all, I spent 17 years of my life here.
Whatever success I have had in the United States is, in important measure, due to the excellent education I received at ANU, and to the experience and skills in research and administration that I gained here with outstanding colleagues and mentors in a demanding and challenging academic environment.
The Vital Role of Alumni in the Life of a Great University
I am proud to be an alumnus of ANU, one of the great universities of the world.
And I am honored to be in the company of so many distinguished people here tonight who have won the various other ANU alumni awards and those who have won them in past years. And I must commend ANU on these recent efforts to engage its formidable and far-flung alumni base in the life of the university.
American universities have for centuries recognized and embraced alumni as vital stakeholders in their alma maters. And American institutions work unceasingly to cultivate their alumni and to ensure their continued involvement in the life of the university. It is immensely encouraging to see this increasingly happening in Australia.
But to reach the same level of alumni engagement and involvement as that of American universities will not happen overnight, but will be the result of numerous strategies and constant and persistent investment over many decades.
In the United States, alumni are among the most loyal supporters of their alma maters. Their roles and standing in society supports their institution’s missions in countless ways. They help to recruit the next generation of talented students. They serve as role models and mentors for currents students, and they are often well placed to offer practical support for new graduates as they begin their careers. And their achievements and renown bring great distinction and luster to the institutions from which they graduate.
By engaging alumni with a sense of purpose and direction, institutions continue to benefit from their skills and experience. And because they have a strong interest in the welfare of their university, alumni support the institution by volunteering their time and by making financial contributions.
At Indiana University, we have 60,000 members in our alumni association, founded in 1854, out of more than 600,000 living alumni. Our endowment, to which our alumni contribute generously, is around $2 billion. We have just passed the halfway mark in a series of campaigns that aim to have raised $5 billion by our bicentennial in 2020.
Nearly 20 years in leadership positions at one of America’s great universities has repeatedly brought home to me how this kind of private philanthropy is one of the great glories of the American system of higher education. There is nothing anywhere else in the world to compare with the affection and esteem in which alumni and supporters of American universities hold their alma maters, and how they demonstrate this repeatedly with their commitments of time and their personal philanthropy. It is a uniquely American phenomenon.
This kind of support provides a measure of independence from external pressures of various kinds and allows innovation to be vigorously pursued in ways difficult for others elsewhere in the world.
The challenge for Australia, then, is to develop a comparable culture.
And here ANU, in particular through the extraordinary generosity of ANU alumnus Graeme Tuckwell and his wife Louise, has shown the way in exemplary fashion. Their transformative gift will attract the most gifted and talented students to ANU. And it a gift that, because of its scale, attracted worldwide attention and brought the realization that Australia, too, could develop philanthropy on the American scale.
When the gift was made, I wrote to Mr. Tuckwell as an ANU alumnus to thank him for his remarkable gift and I am proud to be receiving my alumnus award in the same year that Mr. Tuckwell received his for his philanthropy.
National Commitment to Improving the World Through Education
In his recent speech at the University of Queensland, my other alma mater, American President Barack Obama said: “There is an incredible commonality between Australia and the United States. ...We (are) inspired by the same ideals of equality and opportunity (and),” he continued, “we share the confidence and optimism that we can leave this world a better, safer, more just place for future generations.”1
The commonalities between Australia and the U.S, of course, also include a deep commitment to education of the highest quality, in whose sustaining, alumni have a critical role.
And, indeed, providing such an education is one of the principal ways that we can promote equality, expand opportunity, and improve the world for future generations.
Once again, I am truly honored to accept this award, and in doing so, I accept it on behalf of Australian and American colleagues, past and present, who have done so much to foster the shared values of our two countries.
Thank you very much
- Barack Obama, Remarks by president Obama at the University of Queensland, delivered November 15, 2014, Web, accessed January 13, 2015, URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/15/remarks-president-obama-university-queensland