Occasional address: Judge Sandy Horneman-Wren

Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, His Honour Judge Alexander ‘Sandy’ Horneman-Wren SC (BBus, 1987) delivered the Occasional Address at the Rockhampton Graduation Ceremony on 4 December. An alumnus of CQUniversity, Sandy is currently a Judge of the Children’s and the Planning and Environmental Courts of Queensland and has worked in a diverse range of areas including civil, human rights, administrative law, and professional disciplines.

Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen.

May I commence by thanking you, Chancellor, for the great honour you have paid me by inviting me to be guest speaker at today’s CQ University graduation ceremony? That I am an alumnus of this fine university is a matter in which I have always take enormous pride.  To perform this role this morning is a singular pleasure.

The University has today conferred another great honour upon me. I am not at all sure that I am deserving of this award, or that which the University has previously bestowed. I feel as though there must be so many more deserving than I.

But, perhaps, I am not a good judge – of these things – so I accept it gratefully and graciously.

I must say, that it is a great delight to return to Rockhampton, my hometown, and to this, my home campus, to address you at this graduation ceremony – and in such familiar climatic conditions.  It is 30 years since my own graduation ceremony here – but it all feels so familiar.

Graduands, today is about you. And as the university’s most recent alumni, I am sure that you share my pride in our alma mater.

Alma Mater is an expression often used.

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In the sense that it is ordinarily used, it simply means the university, college or school that one formerly attended and, particularly, of which one is a graduate. But its literal translation from the Latin to English provides so much more meaning. It translates as “nourishing mother”. And that is what CQ University has been to you – a nourishing mother.

She has nurtured you through your courses of study, providing you with guidance and encouragement, facilitating your learning of the things you need to know. And today she, the university, sends you into the world as graduates of her and as members of her broad alumni.

But, as with all mothers, you should not lose touch with her. You will have many opportunities to have an ongoing connection with the University and its community. 

Make sure that stay connected. Involve yourself in the activities of the Alumni.

Give money! In Australia we do not have a tradition of benefaction to our former almae matres. In my opinion, that is a pity. Not only can the universities use the money, but it actually feels good to know that you are supporting, in a tangible way, the education of those who follow you.

Staying in touch with those academics who have provided you with the guidance and support through your years of study. They have worked selflessly for you and they take great pride in your achievements. They will remain interested observers of your careers.

I was delighted that one of my great lecturers, Gordon Stewart, carried the University Mace this morning’s academic procession. We have remained the greatest of friends. We collaborated on, and published together, an academic paper in 2006 – 19 years after my completion of his courses. My son, Archie, who is also here today, is Gordon’s God Son.

Now I am not saying that you have to make your former lecturers the godparents to your children – but they would appreciate an email from time to time!

Graduation Day, of course, marks an end, or perhaps many ends.

Most obviously it marks the end of your studies – the conferral of your qualification, reflected in the certificate with you will all soon be presented, is, quite literally proof of that. That certificate is your testamur.  It is your proof that the examinations required by the university to be admitted to the degree or diploma have been passed. So it is physical proof that the examinations are at an end. Hopefully, today also marks the end of the anxiety that went with all of those examinations. For many of you graduating from primary qualifications, it may also mark the end of the relatively carefree days of student life. Thankfully, it also marks the end of the accumulations of your HECS debt.

However, for most of you at least, this day also marks a beginning. You are embarking upon your careers.  Those careers will be built upon the foundations of the education you have received here from CQUniversity. You will need to accept and meet the challenges that lie ahead; identify opportunities; and embrace innovation.

Embrace further and higher studies. You are the most educated generation in history.  That is a blessing. However, a primary degree is no longer exceptional. Those who employ you or wish to engage your services have greater expectations than in the past. Higher degrees are now held by many – as today’s graduation ceremony will demonstrate.  For those of you who are graduating from undergraduate degrees, let those who you witness graduating from postgraduate degrees be an inspiration to you.

All of us face many challenges with which we have to deal over the course of our careers. But some which you will face have not been encountered by those who have gone before you.

Artificial intelligence will, no doubt, impact upon almost all of your careers. You are the first generation of graduates for whom this is an immediate reality. To my generation, artificial intelligence existed in the realm of science fiction. We were coming to terms with robots, but not ones which could learn. You will read from time to time that artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to your very careers. It is unlikely to prove to be so – but, undoubtedly, it will have a significant effect on the work you do.

On the bright side, the most immediate effect should be the removal of all the mundane tasks leaving the more intellectually stimulating work to be performed by you.

You will no doubt encounter ethical challenges as well. These are the challenges for which your studies will not have prepared you, at least not as fully as it has prepared you to meet the practical challenges of your chosen professions.

No matter what your profession, for the vast majority of you it will be practised, to a greater or lesser extent, in a commercial context. In such a context, the promotion of self-interest above the interests of those to whom you hold responsibilities can become a temptation.

It is a temptation not to be succumbed to.

This year, we have seen through The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry the exposing of shameful practices in once venerable and trusted institutions.

Those practices have involved:

  • the preference of self, or shareholder, interest over those of the customers to whom responsibilities were owed;
  • the setting aside of ethical decision making and the embrace of unethical practices; and
  • a preparedness to conduct business outside of amoral, ethical and, perhaps, even legal framework.

But for a Royal Commission, one reasonably suspects that the practices would simply have continued unabated and with no resetting according to ethical considerations.

When such practices have been engaged in at board and the most senior of executive levels, one can only imagine the impotence of those in the lower ranks, whose role it is to follow and implement business strategy, not to formulate it, to themselves expose or call out such despicable conduct.

Those entering such institutions in the graduate ranks would be hard pressed to follow individual over corporate ethics, no matter how much they may wish to do so. And the great pity is that over time their own personal ethics will be eroded so as to take the shape of those of the corporation.

This is not intended as a rant against the capitalist model. Rather, I merely wish to suggest that those who operate under the capitalist model owe many duties which lie beyond their shareholders, and which include duties to those bright, and bright-eyed, graduates who enter their businesses at the outset of their careers.

It is their duty to nurture your sense of what is right, good and ethical, not to erode and destroy it.

And it is not just in banks and financial institutions.  As recent examples have demonstrated, the law as a profession is itself not immune.

Wherever and whenever you encounter circumstances which would require you to compromise your ethics, endeavour to hold true to your values.

At the risk of presuming to offer you advice, I will make some observations which you may find of some use.

Mentors are important – choose them well.

There will probably be no more profound influence upon you than that drawn from those for whom you have the deepest respect.  So that respect needs to be well placed. And having identified those who deserve your respect, shamelessly appropriate their finer qualities which you so much admire.  Eschew the poor qualities which you will also see in others.

And as you progress through your careers, be generous in sharing your knowledge with others who will follow you.  Sooner than you now expect, you will be seen by others, even if you don’t necessarily feel it yourself, as being the experienced one.  They too will be carefully choosing their mentors.  Endeavour to be the person who they would choose.

The intellectually or technically brilliant may be admired for their talents; but if selfish of their knowledge, arrogant or rude in their demeanour; or disinterested in the welfare and future of their colleagues, they are most unlikely to garner true respect.

Today we acknowledge your significant achievements.  We also acknowledge all of those, family and friends, upon whose support you have relied to help you to reach this milestone.

As significant as your achievements are, though, you have not yet reached the summit.  You have further to climb.  You are, however, well past base camp.  So you are entitled, today of all days, to pause for a moment, reflect upon your ascent to this point, smile, and take in the view.

I warmly congratulate all who are graduating today and wish you every success in your future endeavours.

All of us gathered here today are proud of you.

Thank you.

Colleen Dunne (https://cqunilife.com)

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