ANU honours distinguished alumni

6 April 2018

Susan Ryan has been a formidable force in Australian society for decades and she remains a powerful role model for women everywhere.

The Australian National University (ANU) has honoured its distinguished alumni at the 2018 ANU Alumni Awards, naming former cabinet minister and equal opportunity campaigner The Hon Susan Ryan AO to receive the University's Alumni of the Year Award.

Throughout her career, Ms Ryan (MA '74) has been a tireless campaigner against all forms of discrimination and has contributed to the advancement of human rights in Australia in the areas of ageing, disability and equal opportunity.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC said Ms Ryan had changed the lives of Australian women forever by introducing equal opportunity and affirmative action laws into Australia.

"Susan Ryan has been a formidable force in Australian society for decades and she remains a powerful role model for women everywhere," Professor Schmidt said.

"That's why the ANU awarded her an honorary doctorate at the end of last year and I congratulate her on being named ANU Alumna of the Year for 2018."

Ms Ryan became Australia's first Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2011 and was appointed Disability Discrimination Commissioner in 2014. She was a founding member of Women's electoral lobby and elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly in 1974.

In 1983 she became the first woman to hold a cabinet post in a Federal Labor Government.

Ms Ryan said she came to study at ANU almost by chance because women in those days went where their husband's careers took them.

"I'm absolutely delighted and honoured to receive this award from the ANU," Ms Ryan said.

"When I did my post graduate studies all those years ago, I did it under very difficult circumstances with one and then two young children, and trying to work and get my political career started, and yet it was so worth it.

"To complete the course, to get the degree and now to be honoured in this way for that long haul all those years ago is very meaningful to me and I hope it's also meaningful to other young parents and mothers who are struggling to do their postgraduate work as well as look after their families and get their working life established."

In its sixth year, the ANU Alumni Awards celebrates the University's outstanding alumni and their achievements across six categories.

Professor Megan Davis, (GDLP, LLM '03. PhD '11), one of Australia's most highly regarded lawyers, been honoured as Indigenous Alumna of the Year for her work representing and empowering indigenous people. She leads the Indigenous Law Centre at UNSW and its research agenda on constitutional recognition and reform.

As Australia's representative on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, Ms Davis is the first Aboriginal Australian elected to a United Nations body.  

In 2017 she was elected by the UN Human Rights Council to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mr Andrew Harper, AM, (BA '87) who has dedicated his career to helping refugees and those affected by natural disasters, has been named International Alumnus of the Year. In 1991 he began at the Australian Embassy in Turkey working with refugees in the wake of the first Gulf War.

He then joined the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, working in West Timor, Ukraine, Albania, Central Asia and Iran, before moving to Geneva in 2006 to the UNHCR's Head Desk for the Iraq situation. Mr Harper's most recent field posting was as UNHCR Country Representative in Jordan, responsible for half a million Syrian refugees who fled the ongoing conflict in their country.

Dr Francesca Maclean, (BE Hons '13, Bsc '13, PhD '17) a vocal advocate for more women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), has been honoured as (Postgraduate) Student Volunteer of the Year.

She co-founded: Fifty50, a student-run volunteer organisation that develops an equitable and inclusive environment for STEM students at ANU, and provides a clear and supportive pathway to professional careers in STEM sectors.

Elite cross-country skier, Jackson Bursill, (LLB Hons '17, BComm '17) has been honoured as (Undergraduate) Student Volunteer of the Year for combining his love of fitness with his compassion for those affected by political unrest and natural disasters.

Jackson has established several sporting and endurance challenges to raise funds for the victims of the Nepal earthquake, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and asylum seekers in Australia.

Mr Omar Musa, (BA Hons '06), a Malaysian-Australian author, rapper and poet from Queanbeyan, was honoured as Young Alumnus of the Year. His three books of poems and four hip-hop albums address the ways racist and misogynistic language impacts marginalised communities.

The son of two ANU graduates, Mr Musa uses his work to mentor young men, help them find a voice and change the way they express themselves. He is a winner of the Australian and Indian Ocean Poetry Slams. His debut novel, 'Here Come the Dogs' was published by Penguin Australia in 2014. In 2015 he was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Young Novelists of the Year.

Professor Schmidt said the winners were all outstanding ambassadors for ANU in Australia and around the world.

"The 2018 award recipients have advanced human rights, gender equity and Indigenous issues; shown philanthropic initiative; and given voice to the concerns faced by marginalised communities. They represent the very best qualities of leadership, creativity and innovation which are nurtured and encouraged at ANU," he said.

The Awards also highlighted the outstanding achievements of more than 25 other Alumni over the past year and paid tribute to the work of the vast network of ANU Alumni volunteers.

The winners are:

Alumna of the Year - The Hon Susan Ryan, AO, FAICD

Indigenous Alumna of the Year - Professor Megan Davis

International Alumnus of the Year - Andrew Harper, AM

Student Volunteer of the Year (Postgraduate) - Dr Francesca Maclean  

Student Volunteer of the Year (Undergraduate) - Jackson Bursill

Young Alumnus of the Year - Omar Musa

For more information on the 2018 awards and recipients, visit the ANU Alumni Awards webpage.

Nominations for the 2019 ANU Alumni Awards open in August 2018.