The graduating class of 2020 at Torrens University and Think Education celebrated their triumph over a year of massive disruption at the inaugural Graduation Without Borders online spectacular.
Gold medal winning guest speaker Paralympian Dylan Alcott summed up the reflections and experiences of so many successful graduates when he shared the number one lesson he’s learned in life.
“It’s not the events in life that dictate the life that you live, it’s how you perceive those events that determines the path that you take,” exclaimed Mr Alcott.
Graduation Without Borders capped off a year of innovation at Torrens University that’s seen students and staff adapt, evolve, and yes, even pivot (with agility). Acknowledging everyone’s hard work, Vice-Chancellor Professor Alwyn Louw, promised this virtual celebration wouldn’t replace each graduate’s moment in the spotlight with their testamur.
“You have shown us your tenacity and your resilience. Tonight, is not the official graduation ceremony, that we will do once we have the opportunity to meet face-to-face, but tonight we celebrate your success,” declared Prof Louw.
What made this innovative event extra special was that parents, families and friends could share the moment with graduates from anywhere in the world. Torrens University President Linda Brown encouraged students to initiate a global wave of appreciation.
“The most exciting part for me in the graduation ceremony is where our graduates turn around and face their family and friends and thank them for all their support during the process,” Linda Brown said.
I want you to turn around to your left and right, and take this opportunity to say thank you to everybody – family and friends who have helped you along the way.”
The sentiment was reinforced by Dylan Alcott.
“There’ll be people sitting next to you on your left and your right, and this means a lot to them as it does to you, so really enjoy tonight with them.”
An innovative once-in-a-generation graduation celebration
COVID-19 swept across the world while the graduating class of 2020 began their final year of study. As classes moved online, physical graduation ceremonies became impossible due to restrictions on large gatherings. Some universities made it possible for students to graduate in ‘in absentia’ – they got their qualifications, but no ceremony.
Torrens University agreed to postpone graduation ceremonies but was determined to celebrate the incredible achievements of our students as they completed their degrees. This once-in-a-generation graduating class seized the opportunity to put their own customised stamp on this interactive event.
While most graduation ceremonies only have one student presenting a speech, Graduation Without Borders opened it up to the all 3314 graduates. Using the hashtag #TUAGrad2020, students were invited to submit a video of their graduation speech. Many were broadcast throughout the program, emphasising the significance of the event.
Esha Egbert returned to her nervousness on day one and the smiling faces of her peers that comforted her. “I still remember my first lecture with Jane, she read my facial expression and said, Esha I’m here to help you and slowly, surely you will get there,” recalled Ms Egbert.
Jenelee Aganus-Bituin outlined the top three values she embraced in our B Good organisation – leadership, diversity and sustainability. “My hopes and dreams are to become a leader in my community and become a catalyst of change in public health,” shared Ms Aganus-Bituin.
Rachel Bauer expressed the challenges of looking for work in her field while thousands were losing their jobs in the response to the pandemic. While she experienced rejection after rejection, her eight-month journey resulted in a job she loves.
“Persistence hard work and determination really pays off. Just keep going – good things really do take time. I can’t wait for us to all celebrate in person on stage and receive our testamurs,” exclaimed Ms Bauer.
A proud Torrens University President Linda Brown reminded the graduates of the pledge made to students – they would be empowered through education to make a big difference.
“You are the leaders of tomorrow. You are the people who are going to change the world,” Ms Brown articulated.
“You are education without borders. You are taking a purpose, a core humanism out to the world, and I cannot wait to see what you do and the impact you have.”
The Voices of Graduation winner
The #TUAGrad2020 graduate speeches were part of the Voices of Graduation competition which was won by Nyasha Chakaingesu. In addition to receiving a $2000 cash prize, Ms Chakaingesu’s win included presenting her graduate speech in person at Torrens University’s Flinders Street campus.
Graduation Without Borders crossed live to the location where Ms Chakaingesu was surrounded by mask-wearing and socially distanced family, friends and fellow graduates.
Revealing that she was heading to Canberra to work in a government role, Ms Chakaingesu professed that creativity, including academic creativity, matters in the world right now. She also explained that her life journey from Zimbabwe, via Perth, has not been straight forward.
“When it was time to choose my career path in high school, on a whim, I chose graphic design because it sounded creative, even though I hadn’t no idea what it was about. Graphic design is creative and also requires computer skills, which I had little of. So that was a huge mountain to climb,” reminisced Ms Chakaingesu.
After completing a graphic design internship in Germany, Ms Chakaingesu felt she had conquered that mountain. In fact, she went on to study 3D design and animation – a path that presented many obstacles and challenges.
“My lecturers saw me break down in tears so many times and they received so many panicked emails. I’m super thankful that I had other students to share this pain with,” appreciated Ms Chakaingesu.
Along her journey with Torrens University, Ms Chakaingesu discovered she loved solving problems and helping people.
“From what I’ve learned over the years, my mission now is to find innovative ways to help people and communities and make a tangible difference.”
“I encourage you to keep persevering. Don’t give up and have fun along the way. I did.”
Gold medal winning guest speaker Dylan Alcott
As an online event, Graduation Without Borders needed a guest speaker who could engage a global online audience, not just read a prepared speech to the graduates. Australia’s gold medal winning wheelchair basketballer and world number one wheelchair tennis player, Dylan Alcott, was the perfect choice. His enthusiastic personality seemed to leap through the screen and put an arm around us all in congratulations.
“I’ve gotta give you a big cheers,” said Mr Alcott, thrusting his drink into the webcam, and added, “congrats to everyone on your incredible achievement.”
The master of the racket became the master raconteur as he recounted his love of sport as a child, which soured in his teenage years as be became embarrassed about having a disability.
“I think one of the biggest lessons I can pass on to people, especially when you finish uni, is the importance of being bold. I think if you put yourself out there, good things tend to happen.”
Mr Alcott’s boldness won him a Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair basketball and another in wheelchair tennis – both of which he proudly displayed to his audience while talking. He credits the Paralympics with helping him find his true purpose in life.
“People come up to me and say, is your purpose in life to win grand slam singles titles and gold medals? The reason I get out of bed every day is because I want to help people that are like me, people with a disability, to get out and live the lives that they deserve to live.”
Mr Alcott admitted that it was hard and lamented that some of our graduates may encounter people in their careers who put them down and tell them they’re not worth it. He reminded us that none of us are struggling alone and encouraged us to hold fast to our purpose.
“The most important things in life is passion and purpose. Hopefully we’re all long-time living, and if you’re a long-time living, you’re a long-time working. So why waste your life doing something you don’t enjoy?”
“You will get the rewards. Everything else will come. As long as you get out of bed every day and you go to work, knowing that you’re going to be doing something you’re passionate about and helping people in the process.”
Savouring the lead up to the big night
While Graduation Without Borders gave us an opportunity to celebrate simultaneously around the world, the festivities in Australia began much earlier.
For weeks, students have been popping into Torrens University campuses for COVID-19 safe photography sessions in their full regalia. You can see some of the results on Instagram with the hashtag #tuagrad2020.
Also, in addition to the Voices of Graduation Competition videos, students at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) spent the last few weeks preparing a musical mini-spectacular. Students and staff lip-synched through a precisely choreographed performance of Sia’s song ‘Together.’ It was a one take wonder that almost stole the show.
However, that honour was left to the hosts with the most, Adjunct Professor, former Socceroo and social justice advocate Craig Foster and BMIHMS alumnus Betsy Westcott. Throughout Graduation Without Borders, Craig and Betsy guided the program through live crosses to viewing parties of graduate groups at Torrens University campuses in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Sydney. Then they handed over to musicians Ciaran Gribbin, L FRESH the Lion and Latifa Tee to really get the party started.
Grammy nominated Mr Gribbin wasted no time in sending Craig and Betsy to one final class for 2020 – in Rock School. Craig returned dressed as Madonna to sing ‘Like a Virgin,’ while Betsy channelled her inner Axl Rose for an unforgettable version of ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine.’