Scholars on show at Avondale graduation

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Dr Peter Williams from Avondale Business School receives his testamur from Avondale College of Higher Education president Professor Ray Roennfeldt. (Photo: Jared Martin)

A growing research culture has seen Avondale graduate the largest number of higher degree by research and PhD students in the one class this year.

The presentation of awards during the ceremony on Sunday (December 9) began with the robing of Drs Warrick Long, Anthony MacPherson, André Reis and Peter Williams. They bring the number of Doctor of Philosophy graduands into double figures (as the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th students to complete the degree since 2011).

Long, an Avondale Business School lecturer, considered the lived experience of Australian university accounting academics. MacPherson and Reis wrote theological theses, examining The Great Controversy as a theodicy response to the evidential problem of evil and the day of atonement in Revelation. Williams, also from the business school, studied school leadership succession in a faith-based education system with a focus on perceptions of different hierarchical levels.

Assistant academic registrar and project manager Grace Paulson followed the four across the Chan Shun Auditorium stage as only the second Master of Philosophy graduand. She used the stories of biblical stories of Esther and Hadassah as a comparative study of female agency.

“We’ve acknowledged for many years the value of research to support our academic program,” says Paulson’s colleague Dr Gwen Wilkinson, the academic registrar. “But this milestone, the record number of HDR graduands, is evidence of the way we’re maturing in our scholarly activity. We’re now acknowledged as a valued contributor to the development of new knowledge through research.”

Relief and relationships were front of mind as the graduands spoke at a ringing of the bell ceremony on the Lake Macquarie campus on Friday (December 7): relief for completing not only a professional but a personal journey through research; and relationships with family members and supervisors that provided support and strength.

The motto is . . . your story

A biblical reference—Mark 5:19—provided the inspiration for the class motto, “Your Story.” “It encompasses flavours of reflection, personal journeys and also the greater story, that of Jesus Christ,” says graduation class co-president (Lake Macquarie campus) Bianca Maggs. “While our time at Avondale has been a chapter in our story, we are about to go into the world and share our stories and His story, too.”

Maggs and her Sydney campus co-president Michaela Entermann led graduands who were eligible to march down the auditorium’s centre aisle during the ceremony.

Avondale president Professor Ray Roennfeldt spoke about some of them in his remarks. “I could talk to you about Avondale’s quality educational programs, but I don’t really need to do that—our graduands are the best proof of that,” he said. “Instead, I want to talk with you about what makes Avondale different. This relates to the reasons for our existence. And the best mode in which I can do that is to take a cue from our graduating class and tell you some of our stories.”

These stories included: the mass baptism that followed an eventful evangelistic series in Fiji presented with local churches as a cross-cultural ministry practicum by Avondale seminarians; how service learning provided a point of difference for Avondale students attending a United Nations symposium in Thailand; and the Avondale business students who ranked in the top seven teams worldwide in a computer simulation.

This is a good place from which to graduate, Roennfeldt said. “About 90 per cent of our students are employed during the first four months following their graduation. Please compare that figure across Australia’s university sector.”

The story in 2019

Another good figure—320, the size of the graduation class—is a challenging one for Avondale. “It’s wonderful to see so many students successfully completing their study programs,” says Roennfeldt. “However, we now have to replace all those students—and more—and we will miss them as well.”

His advice to them? “Tell your story! You are the best advertisement for Avondale and the impact it has had on your life.”

The story behind the class gift

The graduands again honoured Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church for its support, particularly through leadership training, mentoring and service learning. “The church’s commitment to proactively build community means a lot to us,” says Maggs.

The class gift, which Maggs presented to Roennfeldt during the valedictory service on Saturday (December 9), has with support from private donors funded a welcome desk.

The church’s First Impressions team, which includes many students, will use the desk to connect primarily with those who are visiting. “Doing something for the first time can be scary,” says the church’s associate minister Alex Green. “Going somewhere for the first time, where everyone else seems to know each other, is next level. That’s why we do all we can to make someone’s first time at College Church not just pleasant but inspiring.” So, the desk, he says, “will serve as an obvious place for our guests to connect, ask questions, get directions, join a Life Group or order a drink.”

The class gift this past year helped fund the refurbishment and expansion of Cafe Rejuve, a ministry of the church.