Valedictorian speech for the Masters of Public Health

At the end of 2019, Amal Abikar delivered the valedictorian speech as she graduated with a Masters of Public Health in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

Valedictorian Speech – Amal Abikar

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Thank you for that warm welcome Professor McGuckin.

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, faculty and staff, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Amal and I’m truly honoured and humbled to be up here today as we celebrate our long journey as graduating class of 2019.

I’d like to give a special thanks to the people that have been a constant source of support and guidance my mum and dad, my grandma, brothers, sister and friends.

I’ve been asked to say a few words of reflection on the past few years while studying public health and it has been an experience like no other. It has given me an insight and glimpse into a world I was not privy to. Opening me up to so many opportunities and a set of tools and skills to address the challenges that face us.

A particular story that I want to tell today is the story of Lalanbai. At the end of last year, I embarked on a residential subject abroad to rural India and had the unforgettable opportunity to immerse myself in a small village known as Jamkhed, filled with committed individuals that were passionately driven to improve the health of their community.

Lalanbai is a village health worker who despite being stigmatised in her society and shackled down by the unrelenting social anchors, said something to me that was poignant and profound.

At the end of the program we had a small ceremony. She came over and placed a brightly coloured flower garland over me, embraced me and said, “But what will you do? What spark of light has Jamkhed ignited in you? More importantly, how will what you have learnt here in Jamkhed about the world and yourself translate into the work that you embark on?”

These words continue to ring in my ears, Lalanbai herself was a testament to overcoming adversity, breaking free from not only the social shackles that attempted to degrade her but also the mental shackles that sought to consume her. She was able to soar to incredible heights that weren’t made accessible for her.

Professor Marcia Langton, the foundation chair in Australian Indigenous Studies here at the university, describes this idea as being ‘inured to a falsity that we don’t realise has been normalised’. Going against the grain, is never easy but the pursuit for truth and justice is always greater.

It seems as though we can see certain things from outside the silo that we cannot see within it. Having this insight allows us to respond creatively to the grappling challenges that face us.

So, I pose that same question that Lalanbai asked me to you, what has your experience at Melbourne University sparked within you? Is there a cause you are more passionate about? A dream you wish to fulfil? Each and everyone one of us has something unique to offer, to contribute, to add to the world. We all posses a peculiar bent of genuineness and its time we harnessed it and allowed it to guide us.

My course, public health, has a lot to do with working with different population groups and has highlighted the importance of having a cross-cultural understanding, being able to understand how people work, recognising our own biases and being able to delve into what drives people’s behaviour. To be that is the essence of public health.

So as I reflect on my journey here and the value of higher education, it truly is an incredible privilege to be able to have access to such an extraordinary place of learning. A privilege that we should not take lightly. And as we depart and conclude this chapter of our lives, let's together be incredible agents of change.

Thank you.