Ms Yohannah Marie Smolders – UWA Valedictorian Address December 2019

Ms Yohannah Marie Smolders – UWA Valedictorian Address December 2019


Acting Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellor, members of Senate, distinguished guests, members of staff, graduates, and their guests, it is an honor to be
giving this address today. Although it does seem rather odd reward three years of hard work with a task involving the
frightening combination of introspection and public speaking, neither of which I am
particularly fond of. That being said, I’m yet to meet a previous graduate who can remember the contents of their valedictory address
given at their ceremony, and this brings me a
small amount of comfort. I want to start with perhaps
my most important task and that is offering my
sincerest congratulations to all the graduates. Whether you’re finishing a bachelor’s or a master’s or a PhD, it is a remarkable achievement and one that you should be truly proud of. So congratulations. And whether you’re
moving into the workforce or returning for further study, which is probably most of us considering the current job market, I wish you all the best of luck. Now in preparation for this speech and also to procrastinate writing it, I watched a rather astounding
number of graduation addresses from which I learned that
there is an excepted format I felt I should adhere to. One of the corner stones
of the valedictory address is reflecting on the
university experience, often with a playful anecdote that serves as a metaphor
for lessons learned. And try as I might, I could come up with no such anecdotes. My attempts to — nostalgic about my three years of undergrad yielded only memories of
complaining about group assignments and the collective panic
outside exam venues at the realisation that everyone in the unit
was woefully unprepared. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that I’ve learned a lot in my time here. To name a few things
related to my coursework, I’ve learned that cancer is complicated, that photosynthesis is miraculous, that mitochondria truly is
the powerhouse of the cell, and that hemoglobin really gets in the way when you’re doing a
myoglobin Western blot. I learned that when
assessing in the cleanliness of glassware in the lab, it is wise to trust no one, not even yourself, and clean it again just in case. And I learned that there is
nothing more heartbreaking than knocking over a tube and watching the protein
you’ve spent hours isolating spill across the bench top. Unrelated to biochemistry, I learned that even
though UWA encourages you to pursue the impossible, they’re probably not suggesting that you try learn 22
lectures worth of content in the 24 hours before an exam. In fact, I relearned that
one every single semester. I learned how to write
a perfectly respectful and grammatically coherent email. I learned the importance of friendship, which is why I felt compelled
to ask my uni friends what they believe to be
the most important thing they learned in their time here. I may also have asked because
that lessened the burden of writing this speech alone if I treated it as a collaborative effort. They gave me answers such an critical and analytical thinking, time management, perseverance, and the knowledge that the
milkshakes at the science cafe aren’t nearly as fresh
as the milkshakes at Hackett. This is all to say of course that all lessons are valuable
in their own special way. Another hallmark of the valedictory speech is the offering of inspiration advice to the graduating cohort. And given my relative
youth and the fact that I’ve never actually graduated
from university before, I felt exceptionally
unqualified to stand up here and hand out original advice as though I know what I talking about. So instead, here are three slightly profound insights heavily inspired by people
far more intelligent and eloquent than I could ever hope to be. Firstly, stop complaining. We’ve all heard the tales
from generations past about walking two hours uphill
in the snow to get to school. And even if these stories
are probably embellished and definitely self-congratulatory, they make a decent point
about the value of education. And I don’t know about all of you, but I spent a significant
portion of the last three years complaining about the tremendous burden of tertiary education, which is complete and utter garbage. If you only remember one
thing from this speech, let it be that the right
to receive an education is one of immense privilege, and the opportunity to receive it at an institution such as
UWA is an even greater one. And I know how, from first-hand experience, just how hard it is to
maintain this perspective in the face of group assignments and exams and very high stakes speeches. But education is not a burden and it should not hold you back. To take this opportunity for granted would diminish the rather
extraordinary level of dedication of not only those of us
who are graduating to day, but also all the individuals who bear the considerable responsibility of guiding us towards
the infamous real world. And it would remiss of me to neglect to thank these individuals. So I would like to extend my
gratitude and appreciation to the academic staff of UWA. It is my own humble
opinion that the saying “those who can’t so teach”
is outrageously untrue in addition to being
incredibly disparaging. Teachers are admirable and
talented and endlessly valuable. And their commitment
to imparting knowledge onto the next generation is
criminally underappreciated. So appreciate your teachers
in whatever form they come. Without them we would not be here today. Secondly, you don’t need to have a plan. It’s all well and good to have a dream you’ve been nurturing
since you were young enough to need supervision while
holding a steak knife, but don’t feel obligated to
see it through to the end. One of the pitfalls of long-term plans is the tendency to ignore
the veritable plethora of opportunities lying all around you. To paraphrase Tim Minchin, the long-term plan you’ve
so carefully cultivated could distract from the worthy pursuit located in the periphery. So turn your head every once
and a while and make detours. Commit yourself diligently to whatever lies
immediately in front of you before thinking about what comes next. And finally, don’t panic. I said earlier that
education is not a burden and it shouldn’t be. If you find yourself resenting the process of acquiring knowledge, I would urge you to change your path. Not all pursuits are equally appreciated by our highly unique minds. Take all the time you need to find the thing that
makes your heart sore and your frontal lobe tingle. You have a good couple of decades to fill depending your lifestyle choices, so open any and all doors
that you come across. And if none of the doors open to reveal something that
interests you, don’t despair. Just very calmly kick open a window. Thank you and good luck. (applause)