Last week Western Sydney University had its September graduations. It is always an important event for those graduating, their families and also the university – something that it true for all universities.
It is an event that the University takes seriously – and is always well attended by senior management and staff…
But last week was particularly special…
After walking on to the stage, the first part of any graduations ceremony is the national anthem. Whenever I take part in singing the national anthem, I always take a moment to reflect on the hopes of our nation: thinking to myself, ‘what would Australia look like at its best?’
It was a strange day because the night before, Senator Pauline Hanson had delivered her second maiden speech. You know the one – and there is no link required… it does not need any more hits on youtube.
It was a lazy speech – recycled from her speeches twenty years ago, short on fact, full of misleading statements, promoting hate and exclusion.
Senator Hanson claimed this country was being overrun by Muslims (despite making 2.2 percent of the population), that multiculturalism had failed, that crime is rising (it is actually falling), that women make frivolous claims in the Family Court and so on. (See the analysis here…)
It was a shameful speech – and it was made all the worse by other Senators standing over her and congratulating her after the speech. (I should note that I also disagreed with the Greens Senators decision to leave the chamber – but that is for a different time.)
But standing there on the stage at graduations, the morning after the that speech, singing the national anthem, I was overwhelmed by the evidence of just how wrong Pauline Hanson is.
Joining me in singing the national anthem in the auditorium were hundreds of families from dozens of cultural backgrounds:
Directly in front of me was a Muslim family from a Middle Eastern background – wearing a hijab and joined by children crawling at their feet joined in the national anthem. The Hindu family to their right were also singing proudly. Behind them, the Muslim family from Indonesia (or possibly Malaysia) sang loud, joined by the white Anglo family next to them (which looked like grandparents and parents of a soon to be graduate).
And after the national anthem, they sat and watched their loved ones cross the stage, clapping and beaming with pride.
In that one room, brought together by the graduation ceremony of our university, we saw the dreams of a nation played out: hopes for the future, dreams of success, desire for harmony, mutual respect and everyday multiculturalisms.
This was not Pauline Hanson’s Australia – an Australia that seems to only exist in her dystopian mind.
This is not to say that problems do not exist: there are tensions and there is crime. Occasionally different groups come into conflict and there are issues within communities. Our refugee policy is shameful and there are everyday racisms that make the life of some people very difficult. Our historical treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal people is also a national shame. So yes, we can do much, much better.
But in saying that, there is beautiful diversity that has come to define Australia. It is in front of us and we should be very, very proud.
As I sat on stage across from our Vice Chancellor, Chancellor and colleagues and surrounded by these families, I felt pride in what Australia’s communities were achieving.
We as educators have an opportunity to ensure we confront Pauline Hanson’s falsehoods and lies. As I have said before, education is the most powerful social justice tool in the world and it allows us to achieve what Plato dreamed of when discussing the ‘shadows in the cave‘ and spoke of “the effect of education… and the lack of it on our nature”
And the most important evidence we have is the world in which we live.