Graduates gather for memorable marquee celebrations

21 April 2011

More than 600 University of Canterbury graduates celebrated their achievements in a very special celebration held on campus yesterday.

Graduates gather for memorable marquee celebrations  - Imported from Legacy News system

Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson speaking at Wednesday's graduate celebrations.

More than 600 University of Canterbury graduates celebrated their achievements in a very special celebration held on campus yesterday.

Two graduate celebrations were held in the "Super Top" tent on Ilam Fields to recognise the achievement of 2010 graduates who had been due to attend graduation ceremonies in the central city that were cancelled as a result of the 22 February earthquake.

UC Chancellor Rex Williams told the packed marquee that it was a "very special ceremony occasioned by the side-effects of the forces of nature and circumstances beyond our control" but that it was also special to be "back on our own campus" to celebrate.

Graduates at the morning ceremony were addressed by UC arts and law student and founder of the Student Volunteer Army Sam Johnson. Sam shared some observations on the "rollercoaster ride" he'd been through in the past seven months in Christchurch since the first big earthquake of 4 September.

He spoke about decision-making and broke down his approach to four key things: relationships with people, advice you receive, processes and leadership. He told the graduates "no matter how high you go up in the world people are people".

"We all have the ability to get to those places. We have the ability to strive very high. We have the ability to dream."

He also reminded his audience that "as graduates of Canterbury University we are not short of any skill in adapting to foreign situations" saying what we have been through with the earthquakes and recovery as a University community and a city has been "nothing short of remarkable".

Sam talked about privilege of meeting US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton last year and recalled a conversation they shared about using tools "already in our pockets", such as cellphones, Facebook and Twitter, to advance the world. He challenged graduates to "hone in on that thought" and work with their generation to make a difference.

The afternoon's graduates were addressed by fellow graduate and University of Canterbury Student Association President Kohan McNab. Kohan, who graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce, crossed the stage to shake the Chancellor's hand just minutes before he spoke. Kohan firstly apologised that against tradition he was not "someone with a lifetime of inspirational achievements behind them" about to give a rousing speech.

"Having just received my degree yesterday in the Ilam Primary School Hall from a very familiar member of the Federation of Graduate Women I feel somewhat hopelessly under-qualified to offer any 'real world' advice."

Instead Kohan chose to focus on what he had learned at UC.

"I expect that in 30 years when we look back on our studies here at Canterbury we may not remember too many specific details. I doubt I'll remember much of the content of my first year nemesis course, that was Accounting 101, and I doubt I'll recall why I thought it was hilarious to go in the Undie 500 as a scorched almond. Although I will remember that I had a good time."

Kohan said the earthquake recovery effort had impacted on him greatly.

"This impact is not just from the event itself but from the lessons I learned about other humans during this time," he said.

"Having been involved with the University's incident response management team I will remember that teamwork and sacrifice are required to be able to act decisively. Having been a member of the core group of the Student Volunteer Army I will remember the importance of a strong emotional support group when you are in a high-stress situation.

"From my fellow Canterbury graduates I will remember the perseverance and commitment required to focus on exams whilst in the midst of a natural disaster. I will remember what was required, not only to carry on, but to succeed and enjoy life in the face of adversity. I hope I will remember that even in a time of extreme trial and great personal loss large numbers of people will still turn to help others. And I hope I will remember how this action can resonate across the community, the country and the world."

Kohan ended by saying most of all he hoped to hold onto the memory of how inspired he was to be a part of the UC community.

"I believe the true value of University is the opportunity it provides to find what inspires you and then give you the ability to pursue that."

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