I had the pleasure of accompanying my mother to Sydney to attend the Sydney University Alumni awards in order to receive on behalf of my brother the inaugural President’s Award. Two very proud women set off early (because the older of the two was panicking in case she arrived late) and arrived at the beautiful buildings of the oldest university in Australia with a couple of hours to spare. The university was built in 1850 and is know as a sandstone university as opposed to both the universities that I have attended which are known as gumnut (or verdant) universities. Walking through these buildings one gets a sense of the knowledge which is imparted and has been through the generations. Arriving early Mum took me on short meander down memory lane, showing me where Professor Trendall had his office, where Greek and Latin lectures were held (now housing offices) and where the old Fisher library used to be housed in a building that formed part of the quadrangle.
The cold drove us into the Great Hall early where we sat in the back watching a rehearsal for the night’s proceedings. Although we had a preview of the night it did not give any indication as to the passion that would be exhibited by some recipients. The hall itself is one of the best examples of Victorian Gothic revival architecture I have seen.
The lighting in the hall had recently been renewed showing off the Chancellors and the other structures, such as the angels at the front, well.
Mum and I were to sit on the stage at the right as Mum needed the lift to make it to the stairs. It meant looking at the screen was a trifle more difficult but we had a birds eye view of the award recipients. The first to be awarded were the Alumni Achievement Awards which recognise graduates who are established in their careers and have made a difference.
Penelope Seidler AM received hers for cultural contribution. I had not realised that she was an integral part of the architecture team that designed some of Sydney’s iconic buildings. Both are modernists and Penelope has been a constant force in the arts world, leading a vital cultural shift for recognition of art as having tertiary merit. She sat on the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York since 1973, is a Biennale of Sydney Director and on the advisory board of Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art among many other activities.
Emeritus Professor Vaughn Pratt was awarded (Innovation and Entrepreneurship) for being a “pioneering mathematical theorist who has consistently opened up new areas of thought. He is also a real-world problem-solver tackling everything from self-driving cars to his new field of investigation, climate change.”
The International Achievement Award went to musician Antony Walker. His career path was amazing as he was appointed the musical director of Sydney Philharmonic Choirs at the age of 22 and became one of the youngest musical directors when he was appointed Artistic Director of Washington concert Opera and Music director of Pittsburgh Opera.
For Professional Achievement, Dr Patricia Selkirk AAM received the award for her work in the Antarctic and subantarctic Bryophytes which have a vital function in soil formation, water retention and nutrient cycling. I would have liked to talk with her more as her love of the region was evident and it is such a place of beauty that is definitely on my bucket list as a place I would like to visit (although I am highly unlikely to ever get there.)
The next two awardees knocked me over with their passion. They were both inspirational young people. Anabelle Chauncy OAM went to Uganda in 2007 taking time out from her studies. What she saw there made her return with a goal – to provide education to the children as she believes that education is the only way up. She formed a charity along with fellow student and she now has 3 schools and 560 students leading to thousands of lives being transformed.
The final award went to Eddie Woo who blew me away with his passion and his huge smile. He is described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “the country’s most famous maths teacher.” This must be true as when I told Roger about him he already knew of him. He is inspiring generations of learners with his youtube channel “wootube.” He is the maths teacher I wish I’d had for if the comments are anything to go by he makes mathematics intelligible. He said that he was not special but just doing what millions of teachers do in the classroom unseen everyday. He accepted the young alumni award saying that he was thrilled to receive it for teaching as with recognition such as this, it will help attract quality students to teaching and this is essential for the future. He says ” Students are waiting for someone to enter their story to add light and hope.”
These awards were followed by awards to newer post-graduates.
Then the President’s Award. This award celebrates exceptional and sustained achievements made by an alumni in their field of professional endeavour and/or their contribution to community. Only to be awarded a maximum of twice in five years, this was the first time this award has been given and how proud was I as the first recipient’s sister. My brother, Dr Colin Mathers, accepted by video and then Mum (with my assistance) received it on his behalf.
He received this award for his work in epidemiology where he has been the Chief Scientist and co-ordinator of World Health Organisations Mortality and Burden of Disease Unit since 2002.
We went home, Mum very tired but proud, clutching the trophy. Now we just have to keep it safe until we can give it to my brother.