Aboriginal Graduates Present Valedictory Speech at Graduation Ceremony

Four Aboriginal graduates of the Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work – Anthony Newcastle, Vanessa Davis, Justin Butler and Kylie Dowse – presented the valedictory speech at a University of Melbourne graduation ceremony on Saturday 18 March.

From left to right: Vanessa, Kylie, Justin and Anthony.

Anthony delivered the speech with Vanessa, Justin and Kylie by his side, each of them dressed in their academic robes and in the black, yellow and red of the Aboriginal flag. Anthony spoke movingly of how graduating is often a community and family achievement as much as it is an individual achievement. He thanked all those who had supported their learning including teachers, mentors and family, and paid respect to the influence and sacrifices of Elders and ancestors who had walked paths before them – who kept walking, despite many barriers, in order to leave a track to follow.  

Anthony spoke of how all the graduates at the ceremony were standing together from different cultures, backgrounds, genders and journeys, and how it was their shared responsibility to continue to improve the outlook for those who come after them.

Anthony, Vanessa, Justin and Kylie graduated from the Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work with First Class Honours. The Masters, a joint initiative of the Department of Social Work and the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide, focuses on a counselling and community work approach that enables people to separate their sense of identity from the problems they are experiencing and to tell their stories in ways that make them stronger. The course attracts students from around the world and has a strong uptake with Indigenous students.

Graduate Justin Butler of the Kalkadoon and Bandjin nations explains that he enrolled in the Masters to learn a framework that honours the oral storytelling traditions of Aboriginal culture. He intends to apply what he has learnt in his role as a Cultural Liaison Officer at Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

“The learnings will guide conversations with staff of the privilege they hold as educated, employed members of the dominant culture and the importance to consider their own work practices working with marginalised groups. As an educated Aboriginal man, I hold an obligation to conduct this. My Nana, Mary Butler, expects this,” he says.

Justin now plans to complete a Masters in Social Work while Anthony, Vanessa and Kylie will undertake a PhD at the University of Melbourne.