Use the gift of education to make a difference

18 December 2018 | Story Carla Bernado. Photo Je’nine May. Read time 5 min.
UCT alumnus, philanthropist and pioneer Annette-Campbell White addresses graduands and their loved ones.
UCT alumnus, philanthropist and pioneer Annette-Campbell White addresses graduands and their loved ones.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) 2018 graduation season wrapped up on Friday, 14 December with a clear call to graduates from alumnus, philanthropist and trail-blazing venture capitalist on male-dominated Wall Street, Annette-Campbell White, urging them to make a difference in society.

Speaking at the joint Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment and the Faculty of Science ceremony, Campbell-White’s focus was on the future and the inevitable change it brings.

As a New Zealander educated in South Africa who crossed the Atlantic to smash glass ceilings on Wall Street, Campbell-White knows all too well how to adapt to change. And, having fought sexism throughout her career as well as cancer, she knows about battling the odds.

“Nothing can prepare you for change,” she said. “You have to be alert.”

The changes graduates will have to adapt to and find solutions for include climate change, famine and water shortages. But, “change brings opportunity”, a chance for graduates to use their UCT education to make a difference.

“You now have the educational foundation so that you can, in turn, help to develop solutions,” said Campbell-White.

And this gift of education, she said, can never be taken away.

“You have learned how to think and that is the greatest gift of all.”

But using their degrees and diplomas to innovate wasn’t all Campbell-White expected of them. She also looked to graduates to be change-makers, for instance in using wealth for the common good and restoring the ethical balance to the world of business.

“You might be the smallest cog in the machine, but you have the responsibility to do the right thing.”

A lasting impression

Doing the right thing and doing it well set Gregor Leigh, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, apart in 2017. At Friday’s ceremony, Leigh was presented with the Distinguished Teacher Award for which he was named alongside three other academics in 2017.

The award acknowledges the primary place of teaching and learning in the work of the university and it marks sustained excellence in teaching.

While he was making his way to the stage, the audience and platform party applauded loudly but as Leigh turned and nodded to the students, the increase in volume made it clear: Leigh had indeed left a “significant and lasting impression on [his] students”.

Use the gift of education to make a difference
Gregor Leigh receives his Distinguished Teacher Award.

For someone who says, “More than any other role, teaching defines who I am”, it was an affirming moment and evidently an emotional one as he wiped away tears while smiling broadly at the students.

“As you can see … Gregor Leigh enjoys legendary status,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning Associate Professor Liz de Lange, who read out the award presentation speech.

One of Leigh’s colleagues wrote that “the life and times of Gregor Leigh serve as a case study in what can be achieved through a love of your discipline, a love of teaching, mutual respect between instructor and students and raw stamina”.

Use the gift of education to make a difference
The Department of Engineering’s Prof Aubrey Mainza is admitted as a UCT Fellow.

Other celebrations of staff excellence during Friday’s ceremony included the admission of two professors as UCT Fellows. The Department of Engineering’s Professor Aubrey Mainza and the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science’s Professor Michael Meadows were admitted for their original and significant contributions to knowledge.

Use the gift of education to make a difference
The Department of Environmental and Geographical Science’s Prof Michael Meadows is admitted as a UCT Fellow.

A successful season

As well as seeing approximately 1 885 students – including 118 doctoral and 780 master’s candidates – graduate, this season included the Vice-Chancellor’s robing ceremony and the celebration of academic staff excellence with the UCT Book Award and three Creative Works awards. It takes the total number of graduates to over 7 000 for 2018.

It also included a special graduation ceremony for students who previously could not graduate because of outstanding fee debt. They were finally able to do so after once-off donor funding was secured by the university.

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Creative works and book awards

UCT recognises and celebrates major creative works and outstanding books produced by members of staff at the university.

Twin cities connect struggle and liberation sites Associate Professor Svea Josephy received a Creative Works Award for her solo exhibition, Satellite Cities, at today’s graduation. It is one of three such awards. 13 Dec 2018
Symphony of elements wins Creative Works Award Professor Hendrik Hofmeyr, of the South African College of Music, receives a Creative Works Award at today’s graduation for his composition Second Symphony – The Elements. 13 Dec 2018
Creative Works Award for Womb of Fire Dr Sara Matchett’s Creative Works Award winner, Womb of Fire, addresses how centuries of violence in South Africa continue to play out on women’s bodies. 13 Dec 2018
UCT Book Award for classics scholar Professor David Wardle’s work Suetonius: Life of Augustus has won him the 2018 UCT Book Award. 13 Dec 2018

Inspired to achieve

Read about some of our remarkable students who are graduating this season.

Four doctors, two families make it a double It’s not often that two sets of brothers who are close friends graduate from the same two faculties – and each with the title of doctor. 14 Dec 2018
Commitment, passion and dogged determination Due to graduate with a PhD in Medical Biochemistry, Kehilwe Nakedi reflects on her academic journey and the pleasure of seeing things finally fall into place. 12 Dec 2018
UCT remedies a past injustice The story of Raymond Suttner receiving his LLM from UCT almost half a century after withdrawing his thesis from examination has captured imaginations around the country. 11 Dec 2018
Unspeakable tragedy yields master’s degree When Mabuyi Mhlanga’s young daughter died in a car accident two years ago, she channelled her grief into addressing the issue of road safety around schools. 11 Dec 2018
‘I want to reach the places my father did not’ Tafadzwa Mushonga will be the first PhD graduate from the Centre for Environmental Humanities South, forging ahead from where her father left off. 10 Dec 2018
A passion for education From a young age, masterʼs graduand Sonwabo Ngcelwane has seen education as the key to rising above one’s circumstances – no matter how challenging. 10 Dec 2018
Never too late to overcome the odds PhD candidate Witness Kozanayi relied on his determination, the support and sacrifice of others, and a fascination for his homeland to fuel his academic success. 07 Dec 2018
Growing pesticide, lead threat to vultures Vultures play a vital housekeeping role in the wild, but like many African raptors they’re threatened by pesticide and heavy metal poisoning, says PhD candidate Beckie Garbett. 07 Dec 2018

Golden memories

Members of the University of Cape Town’s class of 1968 will reunite to celebrate their Golden Graduation this week. Madi Gray, a veteran of the nine-day Bremner sit-in of 1968, will be among those UCT alumni celebrating this milestone.