Embracing diversity

Robert Wood (BA, BEc '05)
23 February 2022

When I think of ANU, I think of my 21st birthday most of all. A huge South Indian banquet in a lovely backyard in suburban Canberra, it brought many different people together - international students, local students, people from country Australia, Aboriginal people - all connecting with each other and celebrating life through good food. It was a moment of great togetherness and I'm still close with a lot of those friends, no matter where in the world they are now. That was all thanks to ANU because we were just students trying to make a life as young people away from home for the very first time. 

Later, I left Canberra to go to Philadelphia as a Benjamin Franklin Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. When I lived there, I was far from home and often missed Australia. But I soon discovered I had one great ANU friend in the U.S - Sam Dalgarno, who I met in History Honors classes when we were at ANU. Sam was working at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC and we would catch up in different places; we went to museums together, out to bars and walking in nature. Once a stranger in a classroom, Sam was like family to me there. 

I then went to Paris, Berlin and New Delhi. When I arrived in India, I was lucky to re-connect with another ANU alumnus, Manuraj (Manu) Sundaram - the first person I ever met in my residential college at ANU, Burton and Garran. Manu had returned home and was working in law and politics. His wedding in Chennai some years later was an unforgettable experience and he had lots of old friends there. Both Sam and Manu are people I have lifelong friendships with. 

When I look back on it, my journey before and after ANU is a winding one with lots of stops along the way. Since finishing at ANU, I've planted community gardens and cut onions for hours on end. I've worked with refugees. I've volunteered with prisoners. I've met all these different people for whom life is a real struggle because they can't read, or they don't have enough to eat, or they are stuck in a detention centre. They remind me that being educated is a privilege, and being educated at a place like ANU - one of the world's best universities - is something to be grateful for. 

As someone with connections to country Australia and to South India, I could easily think of myself as being "stuck" in between. Belonging to different cultures or having a diverse heritage can impact a person's sense of belonging and self. Instead, I feel very happy to be in the middle ground. The hard work is to embrace diversity and bring other people with you on the journey, with a sense of balance and optimism. ANU encouraged me to do that because it was such an incredible privilege to be there. It was a real education, in the truest sense of the word.  

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