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Principal Sally Renouf on New Beginnings

Our 2023 Commencement Dinner was held at the National Arboretum on 24 March, where residents and guests were treated to breathtaking views of Canberra in perfect sunset light.

Highlights of the evening included an inspiring Welcome and speech by Ngambri Elder and friend of Burgmann College, Dr Aunty Matilda House, the announcement of our 2022 College Medalists, and a visit from St Beryl and her acrobatic Leaping Nuns.

Principal Sally Renouf spoke on the theme of New Beginnings, and it was a timely reminder of the importance of the collegial residential experience, particularly after the isolation many have felt over the past few years. Mostly, however, it was a call to celebrate where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and the promise of the future ahead.

‘If there could be a theme for tonight, I would want it to be new beginnings. After two-and-a-bit years of hibernating and protecting ourselves, it feels like 2023 is the year we finally get to emerge and share ourselves with the world again.

Our annual Commencement Dinner celebrates the coming together of new and returning staff and residents for a night of good food, good company and fun. The founders of the College had a vision of a community where young people could live and study together, in a spirit of diversity, individual growth and mutual respect. In 2023 we still hold true to this vision and our dinner tonight is part of our efforts to celebrate this.’

College Strategy

During her speech, Sally unveiled the 2023 College Strategy. In keeping with the themes above, the strategy for 2023 focuses on three key areas: continuous improvement for the collegiate residential experience (including the refurbishment of the undergraduate courtyard), future-proofing the college financially for future generations, and demonstrating leadership in keeping with Burgmann values. In particular, there will be an increased focus on sustainability, equity, diversity and access to the College, along with our continued commitment to reconciliation. The Bursary and Scholarships Program is an integral part of Burgmann, giving deserving students the chance to access education and opportunities they otherwise may not be able to, and ensuring that Burgmann continues to foster a culture that is egalitarian and inclusive.

New Beginnings for Burgmann in 2023

While new beginnings inspire hope, they can also test us – particularly our resistance to things that cannot be changed. Sally touched on this in her speech when farewelling those who will be dearly missed by Burgmann and the community at large.

‘Whenever we have new beginnings it means change, and it means we must acknowledge that something is coming to an end. This is not always an easy thing to do.

Sometimes it is worth resisting change to protect things that make sense, such as having a reasonable amount of parking at a convenient and safe distance to your home which ensures you have access to things like employment and medical care.

And there are other changes and decisions that happen which you know that no matter how much you might hope it’s not the case, you ultimately have to accept it as the start of a new beginning.’

Some of the changes for Burgmann include farewelling Charlie Rozario as the College Dean and introducing Alex McKenzie in the role, who has already become a much-appreciated staff member of the College.

Merryn Fraser has also left the College, unable to be dissuaded from embarking on an exciting opportunity with Harvard University. Both Charlie and Merryn will be sorely missed.

There are also changes for the ANU as a whole, the most notable being the loss of Vice Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, who has decided to step down at the end of the year.

‘I would like to acknowledge Brian’s hard work and leadership, and thank him for his commitment to the collegial residential experience. Brian has been a steadfast champion of the collegiate residential experience and has always cared about the needs of the students at the ANU.

We will look to see who will the lead the university next. Whoever she is, I hope she’ll likewise champion the collegiate experience we know is so integral to the lives of the young people studying at this University.’

Lastly, in devastating news for Burgmann but exciting news for her, Manager of Residential Services, Mrs Vicki Guyer, will be retiring at the end of May.

'Vicki Guyer’s dedication to Burgmann College is unparalleled. She came to Burgmann in 1996 and in her time has worked with three principals and has been a part of the lives of over thousands of residents.

Vicki works hard behind the scenes and is very in touch with the needs of others. Vicki has provided support to so many students and families over the years, always finding a way to make it possible for them to stay at the College, regardless of the particular challenge or hardship their family might be facing.

There is never a job that Vicki will not take on, and her can-do attitude has seen her painting the walls and bedrooms of residents when it couldn’t otherwise be done.

Burgmann College is a better place because of her.’

Rhodes Scholarships

Congratulations once again to Sai Campbell and Max Kirkby, who were both awarded a Rhodes Scholarship last year. This is an exceptional achievement and could not have been given to more deserving people.

Academic Awards and College Medalists

In announcing the recipients of the Academic Excellence Awards, Sally paid tribute to those who were not able to perform to the best of their ability during 2022.

‘It might have been due to illness, personal circumstances, or particular family circumstances which meant that you weren’t able to fully participate in your year as you would have liked. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan, but the perseverance of getting to the next step is itself an achievement worth acknowledging.’

The 2022 College Medalist was also announced, which is Burgmann’s highest academic award. For only the second time in the College’s history, it was awarded to two individuals. The College Medalists for 2022 were Sai Campbell and Joseph (Joe) Negrine, both of whom achieved exceptional marks throughout their time at Burgmann College, as well as made enormous contributions to the College community. As Joe was in Singapore on exchange, Oliver O’Brien accepted the award and gave Joe’s speech on his behalf.

‘Life is full of important choices: both to choose to do, and to choose not to do. Sometimes, to choose not to do can be even more important than to choose to do [ . . . ]. Don’t choose to do what everyone else is doing for the sake of fitting in or for fear of being alone. Don’t choose to be silent for fear of being outspoken. Don’t choose to mislead yourself or other people about how you really feel. Don’t choose to believe that you owe people your time, and don’t choose to believe that people don’t deserve common decency. Don’t choose to stop yourself from being happy or smelling the roses. And, above all, don’t ever choose to settle for what you know you can get instead of what could be yours if you truly applied yourself.’

Sai also gave a wonderful speech, highlighting the importance of Burgmann’s Bursary Fund in helping her to reach her full potential.

‘To be candid, the only gratification I can derive from receiving this award is the fact that it recognises the legion of people who supported me and gave me a chance, and gave chances to so many others to pursue their academic dreams here at ANU [ . . . ]. I’m so grateful to Burgmann for giving me the financial aid to attend the university of my dreams. It gave me the friends that I’ll hold close to me for the rest of my life, and, most importantly, it gave me a place to call home for the last four years.'

Congratulations, Joe and Sai!

Welcoming 2023

Before St Beryl and her troupe of dancing nuns took over the stage, Sally wrapped up the formal part of the evening with an inspiring message.

‘Each ending is a new beginning, an opportunity for new intentions, and a chance to set our course for the new year.

So tonight, I encourage all of you to take a moment to acknowledge those leaving us, welcome those new to us and, importantly, celebrate our perseverance through a difficult time and celebrate how far we have come.’

Here’s to new beginnings, and here’s to 2023.

Image credit: Geoffrey Dunn

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