Graduate Address – Macquarie University – Wednesday 18 April 2012, 9.30am – to the graduates in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts
Dr Don Perlgut, PhD
(Note: on Wednesday 18 April 2012, I received my Doctor of Philosophy – PhD – from Macquarie University. I was invited to give the graduate address to my graduating group. The text of my address is below.)
Chancellor, members of the university, fellow graduates, parents and friends, I am deeply honoured to have been asked to speak this morning on behalf of this graduating class. I too honour the Daruk people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I acknowledge their elders, past and present.
Congratulations to you, my fellow students for your notable achievements: you will always remember this graduation, and I can guarantee that your degree will sit prominently both on your mantelpiece and at the top of your resume.
For each of us, attaining this degree has also been the result of a team effort: the support of family members, friends, advisors, teachers and fellow students. Please take a moment later today to thank your supporters for their guidance and assistance.
I have a long history with Macquarie University: I first encountered this august institution in late 1981, when I enrolled for a PhD in urban studies. I never completed that degree, but the university remembered me. Eight years ago when I commenced my PhD part-time in what was then known as the Media department, I was issued with the same student number – a number which commences, I am proud to say, with “81”.
At least a few people graduating with us today have student numbers older than mine – and to you I say, aren’t we lucky! Lucky, because this institution has welcomed and re-welcomed us into its fold, believing in us and encouraging our academic accomplishments with a breath-taking idealism that has lasted decades.
In the 31 years since I first encountered Macquarie, I have met and married the love of my life, had two children, owned three houses and become an Australian citizen. I have had three different careers and eleven different employers, which include three universities, two non-profit organisations, the ABC, ASIC and two start-up technology companies, neither of which exist today.
I have been a lecturer, film critic, consultant, publisher, business development manager, education officer, project manager, executive director and CEO. Without exception, I did not and could not have predicted any of those jobs more than a couple of months before they commenced.
Given my own life history, I think back to my early university experiences and I ponder what advice I could have received upon graduation that would have helped me to navigate the uncommon twists and turns which life threw my way.
I undertook my PhD here because I wanted to spend time making sense of the world of media and film. And that’s exactly what Macquarie University has given me: the intellectual, professional and personal space, encouragement and support to do just that, within my study of film distribution, exhibition, marketing, cultural studies and religion.
The headline of my dissertation is “The Making of a Cultural Moment”, and I investigated the controversies surrounding the marketing, release and reception of the film The Passion of the Christ, which opened on 25 February 2004 – almost the exact same day I commenced this PhD degree.
From my research into media history, I draw two important conclusions relevant to you, my fellow graduates, particularly those who are at or near the beginning of your careers and life journeys.
The first of these is that history matters. It was the Spanish philosopher George Santayana who most famously said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Historians as diverse as Montesquieu, Bernard Lewis and our recently appointed Foreign Minister Bob Carr all concur. So I exhort you to study the history of both your time and your place in order to help work out where you fit within it.
My second conclusion is that we all have a part in creating our history, even if it does not always feel that way. As graduates of this important institution, we all have choices. And our respective degrees will enhance both the number and the quality of those choices and opportunities. Some choices are small: What will I have for lunch today? But some are large: Who will I choose for my romantic partner? Where will I work? Where will I live? What is my life goal?
I spent a good part of the last eight years thinking about a certain moment in film history. What I can tell you now is that this is your historical moment. For some, it is just a beginning, and for many of us a continuation. However for all of us, it is a moment of deep and abiding significance. Thank you, and I congratulate you again on your achievements.