Follow one graduate on her big day . . .
It’s a sunny Friday morning at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, and a procession of black-gowned and trencher-capped students has streamed into the UQ Centre.
For each of them, the day marks a major celebration – of the completion of their university study and the dawning of global opportunities.
“You made it. Today, you receive a degree from a world-class university.”
The soon-to-graduate students are listening to valedictorian Camille Boileau’s address – and she’s doing a fine job of summarising their collective journeys in a five-minute speech.
“I’m going to predict your future . . . much like an author of magazine horoscopes,” Camille says.
“I’m going to tell you a few things about yourself when you grow up, thanks to this UQ education of ours.”
The crowd is silent. How could she possibly ask every person in a tasselled cap to expect a common destiny?
“Firstly, you are going to be a critical thinker. You will not accept things at face value. You will challenge the status quo.”
“Second, you will be compassionate. You will listen. You will empathise. And though you may not always fully understand, you will help.
“Finally . . . you will be loud. You will know when something is not right and you will not be silenced. When you speak, and indeed when you listen, you will do so not from a position of ignorance, but rather a position of education, compassion and respect.
“You will be persuasive. You will speak and you will be heard.
“While our education has taught us many things, more importantly, it has taught us how to think about things. I cannot wait to see this cohort’s minds unleashed on the unsuspecting world.”
An audience of supporters
Camille’s grandfather, Fred Pratt, watches proudly from the audience. He’s taken a three-hour bus ride from his cattle farm at Stanthorpe on the New South Wales border for the occasion.
“I never went to my graduation,” Mr Pratt said.
“I was in Papua New Guinea working as an engineer and surveyor.”
He said the chance to see his grand-daughter graduate made him immensely proud.
Not only is she graduating with a Bachelor of Laws and Science. She is doing so with First Class Honours.
In the audience, he is joined by Camille’s parents, Anne Boileau and Michael Pratt, as well as Camille’s sister Estelle, a UQ engineering student. And they’re all beaming as Camille speaks to the crowd.
A tradition steeped in history
The University of Queensland was founded in 1909 and, since the first graduate in 1913, it has been customary for the graduates to gather and celebrate.
That first ceremony was held in the Central Technical College in the precinct of the then-University grounds of Old Government House in Brisbane’s central business district.
According to one source, the first ceremony was a rowdy affair. In his book A Place of Light and Learning, historian Professor Malcolm Thomis said early UQ ceremonies were events where “untamed spirits a little too much inclined towards rowdyism” prevailed.
The Chancellor of the time, Sir William MacGregor, gave graduation ceremony speeches reputed to have gone on all afternoon and into the evening.
This, according to Thomis, could have explained the hijinks that followed, where restless audiences “amused themselves, as is the wont of students, by singing popular airs to which they added their own words”.
Since that first ceremony, more than 244,000 students have graduated, 12,850 with PhDs. UQ graduates live in at least 170 countries.
What does graduation mean?
UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj says graduation signifies a “pivotal point” in a person’s life.
“It expands your options and opportunities for lifelong learning, growth and development, and importantly, to create change,” he says.
“The world is changing faster than ever.
“Some of the jobs that exist today are expected to dwindle in coming years, while new technology and innovations will create new, as-yet-unknown careers.
“Students graduate from UQ with the resilience to manage the uncertainties ahead. They are superbly equipped to create change and to convey the benefits of UQ’s knowledge leadership to people worldwide.
- UQ Vice Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj
Years in the making
After all the years of hard work, graduation day is a pretty
big deal, says the man overseeing the events with a two-way radio, Student Progression Manager Athol Reid.
“Graduation day is absolutely a life event,” he says.
“A significant accomplishment students have worked towards, through successes and failures.”
Mr Reid oversees everything – from cuing the academic procession, briefing the speakers, to making sure everything runs to schedule.
His team works extremely closely with the Office of Marketing and Communications Protocol (event management) team who contribute much to the logistics, the OMC Design (publications) team, and other areas of the university which contribute to make the day memorable.
He remembers one ceremony where a student previously paralysed surprised her family by walking across the stage to receive her degree, a singular heart-warming moment that highlighted the many personal journeys all students had made.
“The look on a graduand’s face, you really get to see that sense of accomplishment, pride and relief. It’s their well-deserved moment in the spotlight,” Mr Reid says.
“And when they are invited to applaud and thank their friends and family, you can see then how much they appreciate the support they’ve had at university.”
With over 6500 graduands attending ceremonies, there’s up to
30,000 guests to accommodate, 40,000 program books to print, thousands of glasses of bubbly and one giant celebration marquee in the Great Court, a prime spot for photos.
And this is all done as swiftly as possible after exams to ensure the greatest number of students can attend.
“Obviously the longer you wait, the fewer people are around,so there are a lot of people putting in extraordinary efforts to pull this all off in a very tight time frame,” Mr Reid says.
On top of that, the UQ Student Progression team produces 8000 sets of graduation documents, ensuring all qualifications are described, certified and can be verified as authentic for the graduate’s life.
“Several thousand graduates, professional registering bodies and potential employers contact us to verify awards each year,” he says.
“We have verified qualifications for 80-plus year-olds.”
The path to graduation isn’t always straight.
“Some of us think we will find our passion and it will all just fall into place,” Camille says.
“In my first year I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I honestly didn’t know”.
Now, she’s passionate about changing the world by introducing a bit more accountability behind the corporate veil, tackling the issues women face in the criminal justice system, and combating the entrenched attitudes at the heart of them.
“It’s a choose-your-own-adventure. A lot of my friends have gone on to do such amazing and inspiring things.
“We have tools that equip us to make change and respond to challenges, and we have been around people who are so motivated and make it so easy to be involved with opportunities and connect with other graduates.
“There is a strong community at UQ and that is maintained once you graduate. People like to connect you with other like-minded people or people who might be able to help you professionally.”
More information on UQ Alumni here.
One era ends, another begins
“Today would not have been possible without our friends,family, supporters, long-suffering pets, or that professor who gave you that extra bit of encouragement to get you over the line,” Camille says, coming to the end of her graduate address.
“Thinking back, may I ask you, did you make it? As student life slipped from novel to routine, unfamiliar buildings became like second homes, strangers morphed into friends and ibis became foe . . . I know that we made it.
“Our world-class education is a privilege, and privilege is a slippery thing. Our time at university has been an eye-opener. I know that our cohort will not be blind to the plight of others. Our cohort’s kindness will be unstoppable and radiant.
“When we leave this hall today, we are no longer students –a label we have worn proudly for years. We are graduates.
“And when we leave this hall, our voices and our paths will irreversibly diverge.”
Camille – a shining example
For valedictorian Camille Boileau of Toowong, graduation marked the completion of a six-year double degree in law and science, with First Class Honours.
But it’s also what she packed into those six years that she is celebrating – studying on exchange in Denmark, leading the law student society, working on education reform, and winning the biggest international university law competition around – the Philip C Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.
“It’s the most insane legal competition,” she says.
“Every team works on it for months and months, on a very complex problem. The Law School becomes our second home. Luckily our families kept us well-fed and our Faculty Advisor Anthony Cassimatis would ply us with Tim Tams and other sweets to keep us going. I can’t eat some of those sweets anymore.”
Camille may be laughing, but she’s well aware of the gravity of her achievements, and of the career potential that awaits.
During her time with the UQ Pro Bono Centre, where students offer their legal skills for the benefit of the community, she developed resources and guides for the non-profit Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights to help Afghan lawyers defend victims of domestic violence against murder charges.
“Domestic violence is prevalent in Afghanistan,” Camille says. “To a large extent it is viewed as a family issue, so there is often little support for women who are victims of domestic violence. If these women find themselves in a situation where they have killed an abusive partner or family member, the law doesn’t come to their rescue. It is very difficult at present for them to rely on legal defences or justifications, so they end up with very bad outcomes. I am part of a team with Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights that is trying to change that.
“It’s a tough system for women in Afghanistan and they don’t get a lot of support. In Australia, there are more services provided for them and there are laws that protect women in these situations, although we can still do better.
“Basically, I created a detailed guide to assist lawyers who defend women victims of intimate partner violence who kill an abusive partner. I show how their counsel can strategically argue for self-defence under the Afghan Penal Code. We are exploring how these women can best be defended under existing laws.
“I don’t think that I started in law with an innate brilliance for it. It was all unfamiliar territory. I think a lot of my success came down to tenacity and a desire to keep improving and testing my limits.”
Drawing on this experience, Camille wrote an essay on using crowd sourcing to facilitate pro bono legal work, which won the inaugural Access to Justice Prize by the Colin Biggers and Paisley Foundation.
She also worked as a research assistant to Professor Jennifer Corrin and as a paralegal at King and Wood Mallesons. She is now associate to Justice James Douglas of the Queensland Supreme Court.
She served as Vice-President of the UQ Law Society, President of the Education Advisory Board, Secretary of the Australian Legal Philosophy Students’ Association, Producer of the UQ Law Revue stage production and Social Convenor of the UQ Law Society.
And she won numerous Dean’s Commendations for High Achievement and Academic Excellence, the Allens Prize in Company Law, the UQ David Jackson Award for Outstanding Advocacy, two UQ Advantage Grants, and a UQ Merit Scholarship. This year she was a nominated finalist for Law Student of the Year in the Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards.
Camille was third-ranked speaker out of all of the competitors speaking in all preliminary rounds of the international Philip C Jessup Moot Court Competition. She went on to coach the University of Queensland Jessup Moot team in 2015 and again this year. She was also a quarter finalist in the Oxford Intellectual Property Law Moot in 2012.
“I am very grateful for the immense support and encouragement I have received throughout my time here. In particular from Professor Anthony Cassimatis, Professor Sarah Derrington the Academic Dean and Head of School, and Catherine Drummond.”