It’s the people at ANU that make the difference

Surend Dayal (BSc (Hons), LLB (Hons) ‘93)
28 June 2022

I came to ANU when I was just 16, so I was quite young. I lived at Ursula Hall - back then it was Ursula College - run by the Nuns. I was pretty shy at the time, and I distinctly remember the very first function I had at Ursula College was a barbecue in the courtyard, and I was just so overwhelmed by all the people. So, I got my dinner and scurried off, back to my room. But a guy called Mark Cheng, who I'm still close friends with now, came and found me and essentially said, "come on we're going to have a good time."

I'm so thankful to Mark because that could have been my sliding doors moment - I could have just stayed in my room instead of embracing all the social stuff that is on offer at ANU, and my experience at university might have been completely different.

The biggest thing for me at Ursula College was that I didn't just learn the academics, but I learned how to be around other people and interact with people in a positive way. Those skills have put me in good stead throughout my whole life.

I had both my 18th and my 21st birthdays at Ursula Hall too. For my 18th, I went out with a whole bunch of my friends and the very next morning we had rowing training from Sullivan's Creek and out into Lake Burley Griffith. My birthday is in August - so the middle of winter. We went rowing, came back to campus and I remember my friend, Robbo, who was sitting behind me and had to literally crack the ice off my back before we came back inside, it was so cold. I am still in touch with most of the people on that rowing team, who have each gone on to do great things, from PhDs at Oxford to rowing at the Olympics. Team sports are so good because they give you such a good understanding of what it's like to be in a team and to work as one. To me, that is a life skill whether it's in business or at home.

Then, there was the teaching staff at ANU. They really gave a lot to us students. It's an interesting life choice, to be an academic rather than to go out and make a lot of money in business or whatever else. But the older I get, the more I see the value in teaching future generations, because you can so positively influence every student that you interact with.  

For me, this positive influence came from Professor Tom Campbell who, unfortunately, is no longer with us. Tom was the Dean of ANU College of Law and he was the first person who treated me, and treated us students, as adults. For example, myself and some others were competing in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, and so Tom loaned his office to us to work out of. I do remember we were in the middle of preparing our final presentations and there were papers strewn everywhere in his office. Tom came back to the office a day early and when he walked into his office, he discovered me buried in papers and with stuff everywhere - he was very good about it, but I felt mortified.

Now, I am a Professor at ANU, and hope I can leave such a positive mark on my own students. I get a lot out of giving myself and my time to the students; but I get so much back from the students too. Particularly in a field like IT law, where the students coming through now have been born in the internet age, so in some ways they're more advanced than I am. But it's lovely, to learn from them while they learn from me. It's a nice kind of connection to have with them and I've had some wonderful students who have gone on to have careers that are not necessarily conventional, so we share something in common there too.

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