The fifth generation: Graduate follows in family’s significant footsteps

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Orrani Fatnowna.

A student whose connection with Avondale now spans five generations joined 242 of her classmates as a graduate of the university college on Sunday (December 8).

Orrani Fatnowna followed in her family’s footsteps when she walked across the stage in the Chan Shun Auditorium to receive her Bachelor of Arts degree during the presentation of awards at the graduation ceremony.

Great-great-grandfather James Hill, then aged eight, never attended school after the death of his mother in 1883. He became one of the first Seventh-day Adventist converts in northern New South Wales in 1901 through the work of a horseback-riding colporteur and subsequently attended the then Avondale School for Christian Workers. He left his dairy farm in the care of tenants and enrolled as an off-campus student in 1902, but severe drought caused the tenants to walk and Hill returned home three months later. He learnt to read and write at Avondale, though, becoming a lay preacher and church elder who baptised and buried church members in Lismore, Casino and Kyogle.

Fatnowna’s great-grandfather Melvin Hill, James’ son, also attended Avondale but graduated. As did his daughter Carolyn. Fatnowna’s mother Sara (nee Thew) graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Primary) in 1995. This heritage “shows there’s a support of and commitment to the education Avondale provides,” says associate academic registrar Dr Gwen Wilkinson, James Hill’s great-granddaughter.

Fatnowna, as a chaplaincy and international poverty and development studies major, leaves with mixed feelings. She describes her Avondale experience as “encouraging”—“I love meeting new people, so the diversity on campus has been a big thing”—and enlightening—“my lecturers have opened my mind to different perspectives.”

A return to her former school—Carlisle Adventist Christian College in MacKay, Queensland, where Fatnowna began her primary schooling—awaits in the new year. Fatnowna will serve as associate chaplain.

Equal record number of HDR graduates

The presentation of awards during the ceremony began with the robing of Drs Joe Azzopardi, Bevan Craig and Marion Shields. They along with Graham White (in abstentia) bring the number of Doctor of Philosophy graduands to 17 since 2011.

Azzopardi studied the impact of discipleship on wellbeing in intergenerational congregations. Craig investigated the factors predicting the health of adolescents attending a faith-based school system in Australia. Shields developed a grounded theory of Christian early childhood education leadership. And White explored evangelical tensions over biblical inspiration in the 21st century.

Lyndall Smedley followed the three across the Chan Shun Auditorium stage as only the third Master of Philosophy graduand. She examined the perceived value and use of public open space in high- and low-density communities.

These five equal last year’s record number of higher degree by research graduands honoured in the one ceremony. “We would like to think this becomes the norm,” says Wilkinson. “Our students are certainly making a contribution to new knowledge.”

The ceremony is one of Wilkinson’s last—she is retiring. The changes over her 37-year tenure—including the number of higher degree by research graduates, Avondale’s new status as an “Australian University College”, and the increased recognition of nursing—are significant, she says. “We’re not just graduating teachers and preachers now.”

Pretty Thomas receives her Master of Nursing from vice-chancellor and president Professor Ray Roennfeldt during the graduation ceremony at Avondale University College. (Credit: Jared Martin)

Professor Ray Roennfeldt also officiated as Vice-Chancellor and President at his final ceremony—he is retiring, too, after more than 30 years on campus and 11 as leader. Having drafted a speech from the perspective of what it means to be a university college, Roennfeldt had second thoughts. “I want to speak on a more personal level,” he said. Using Avondale’s values as his frame, Roennfeldt challenged the graduands to: “value excellence over slap-dash performance”; realise “you are not enough”; remember “study and work do not constitute the whole of life”; “look in the mirror when you get up in the morning and say, ‘I am true to myself,’” and; take the “greater vision of world needs” and “do something about it”.

With a faltering voice, he added: “I can’t possibly predict where you might be in 10, 20 or 30 years. I couldn’t have predicted the journey that I’ve been on, but I would encourage you to have a heart for service and to be open to where God will lead you. Congratulations, and blessings to everyone.” A standing ovation followed and preceded the main address by Professor Kwong Lee Dow, a former vice-chancellor of The University of Melbourne.

Lee Dow congratulated Avondale on its new status, which he described as “appropriate national recognition of [your] dedication. This is a moment of pride for all who contribute to education at Avondale. It’s also a time to pay tribute to those who led the sustained, arduous effort . . . to demonstrate unambiguously that among the independent providers, this institution stands worthy of the term ‘university’.” He singled out the “tireless and remarkably effective contribution” of vice-president (Quality and Strategy) Professor Jane Fernandez. Her work as founding convenor of the Higher Education Private Provider Quality Network “is substantially assisting others who seek to follow Avondale on this path”.

Avondale University College: A Celebration

The day before the graduation ceremony, Lee Dow and friends of Avondale, including those from other higher education providers in Australia, attended an event celebrating Avondale’s new status. Hosted by Alumnus of the Year Dr Lyell Heise, Avondale University College: A Celebration explored the entity’s 122-year journey through higher education. The highlights: 99-year-old alumna Elma Coombe’s spirited contribution to a panel discussion; Avondale Singers and Avondale Chamber Orchestra’s regal performance of “The Old Hundreth Psalm Tune”; and University of Western Sydney Emeritus Professor Geoff Scott’s commendation of the contribution Avondale has made to the higher education sector, a contribution he described as having moral purpose.

Professor Ray Roennfeldt receives a standing ovation after his final graduation ceremony speech as vice-chancellor and president. (Credit: Jared Martin)

Opening of Dorothy Cottier Building

Graduation weekend began on Friday with the opening and renaming of the former Administration Building on the Lake Macquarie campus. The opening launches a streamlined service for students; the renaming honours a 40-year commitment to the university college.

The Dorothy Cottier Building is now home to Student Administration Services (a merging of Avondale Admissions and the Academic Office) with Student Finance Services, reception and Financial and Business Services sharing the space, too. The contemporary student hub is named after Dorothy Cottier, who served as Clerk/Cashier (1956-1963) then Assistant Registrar (1964-1996) at Avondale over four decades.

“She types the kind of contribution our general and professional staff members make to the success of Avondale,” said Roennfeldt in his speech. He noted how some buildings or centres on campus are named after academics, administrators or those who “make major donations”—and, he added jokingly, “there’s still time for Dot to do that.” But not many are named for those who work behind the scenes. “Dot says that, except for her first year in the Academic Office, she checked every student’s academic registration, set up registration in the auditorium, facilitated class timetabling and organised the examination timetable.”

Cottier attended the opening but toured the building beforehand. “The persons responsible for the re-design and work on the new facilities are to be congratulated,” she said in a speech delivered by the new Director of Student Administration Services, Laurel Raethel. “It is now a magnificent building.”