By Rhys Pope
After years struggling through brick sized books, all nighters and serious expenditure on highlighters and printer ink, it seems only fair that graduation should be all about how much we students have learned, how hard we have worked, how much we have matured.
Imagine if you were selected to give the speech! Such a daunting honour! You would expect hours spent deciding which joke to open with, and on which provoking adjective to end your speech on leaving your classmates in fits of tears.
Until April this year Swinburne’s Graduations Department provided pre written speeches to a lucky selected graduating student selected. The same speech has been, recited by a student, at almost every graduation since 2010. Before this, students were provided with a similarly prepared speech.
In March this year, Politics and Honours student, James Murphy was asked by the Grad Department, to deliver the student speech at his upcoming graduation. On learning that the speech came prepared, he asked if it were possible for him to write his own material. In response, Swinburne decided to elect another student willing to read the universities script.
Following a protest by Murphy, Swinburne University made the decision to alter its decade long policy of scripting student’s graduation speeches. A review by the Grad Department, also found that most other universities in Australia and New Zealand offer the chosen graduate the opportunity to write their own speech.
Tony Reed, Director of Student Operations at Swinburne, says that the drafting of student speeches began because students were unsure of what to write or felt more comfortable having a script given to them.
”There had also been instances where the student speaker was unable to attend the graduation ceremony at the last minute, so the prepared speech was a safeguard for alternative speakers.” Mr Reed said.
Murphy felt insulted, after four years of Swinburne study, the university decided he was incapable of preparing his own speech and his opurtunity .
The new policy will give students the option of using a script prepared by the Graduation Department or writing their own under guidelines. The university has not stated if they will be vetting speeches before graduation ceremonies.
After being told he was unable to deliver his own speech, Murphy sent an open letter to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Linda Kristjanson, and other university staff. He wrote that the prepared speech was a PR opportunity, which sounded, “vacuous, cheesy, fawning, insincere.”
Following the letter, Murphy received a call from the VC. He said that the VC seemed unaware that this was happening and she decided that it sounded a “bit odd”. She asked him to help the university understand his reservations, by meeting with the Head of Graduation and the Director of Student Operations.
Murphy didn’t get the response he was hoping for from the meeting with the graduation officials. He said no one seemed to understand that they had undervalued the talents of the students and were not apologetic.
Stephanie Dunbar, Bachelor of Arts (Journalism), was selected to do the pre written speech after Murphy had earlier refused. She said, “delivering a speech at a graduation ceremony is always played up to be an honour and so despite the scepticism about how I got chosen, I accepted and am proud of it.”
After reading, “the knowledge, friendships and experience we have gained during our time at Swinburne will help us succeed on whichever path we choose”, Dunbar felt that the speech lacked anything genuine. She said, “I think we should have been given the option to write our own speeches and if this had been the case it would have been an experience I would have been even prouder of.”
Instead of refusing to give the speech she chose to add her own original paragraph:
“Step forth with courage in your pursuit to follow your dreams. Strive to always work hard in everything that you do. Be grateful for what you have, for things can always be better but they can also always be worse. And continue to love what you do and you will always be happy.”
She said that she did not ask for permission to add the section, as she didn’t want to be told no.
Dunbar is not the first Swinburne student to alter the speech, March 2012, Masters graduate Jeremy Hutton rewrote the supplied speech in his own words.
Later, in September 2012, graduate Breeanna Sexton used the speech as a chance to speak out against the closure of Swinburne’s Lilydale campus.
Watch Stephanie’s speech.
Watch Breeanna’s speech.