First Dinner Recreation Speech – James Hardiman

Good evening to you all. I want to take a moment to acknowledge how lucky we are to share this moment in time. Today is a time for reflection and celebration as we gather to acknowledge the pioneering women who made up the founding cohort of our wonderful college. It was 60 years ago today that St Hilda’s hosted its first official dinner for our founding students and it is our pleasure to welcome 50 of them back today, just after our first-year students have finished their very own first-high-table for 2024.

Tonight, is a chance for our founding students to reflect, as you look over the hundreds of young, bright, smiling faces here this evening, about your own entry to university and college life 60 years ago, the friendships you forged and about how life has probably changed so much since then.

It’s also a chance for our current students to begin to appreciate that this place is bigger than any one of us and that you’re joining a community that spreads far beyond those who currently live at college. As you take in the smiles and embraces of our founding students, you may also be beginning to appreciate that the friendships and connections forged from a college experience can, and probably will be life-long… which might seem hard to fathom given that you might be standing next to someone you met less than a week ago.

But ultimately, tonight is an opportunity for me to say thank you.

Thank you to our founding students for taking the bold step in to the unknown and embracing the challenges and uncertainties of a new college community and for turning what was once just an idea into a thriving reality that lives on so strongly today.

Thank you to our current students for also taking a leap in to the unknown and in doing so, committing to continue building and improving on the life-changing legacy left by those who came before us.

BUT before we take off, head first into another year at St Hilda’s, I wanted to pause and reflect on the changes this place has seen. One of my great pleasures this past year has been looking over the draft pages of our 60th anniversary history book that is well underway and it’s become clear that there’s been plenty of changes since February 26th, 1964.

  • Back in 1964 our community was jump started with just under 90 students, all of them female identifying. This year nearly 230 students call this wonderful place home.
  • Back in 1964, almost all of our cohort were based in Victoria. This year, nearly 50% of our students come from interstate or overseas.
  • Back in 1964, there were just over 70,000 students enrolled in universities across the country with 75% of them being male identifying. This year, the university of Melbourne hosts 70,000 students all on its own with over 60% of them being female-identifying.
  • Back in 1964, you needed a few thousand pages and a few dozen pens and pencils to make it through a semester of course work. Today, we have over a thousand devices connected to our network and, if you ask my opinion, I reckon our students would list wifi access as more important than food on most days!
  • Back in 1964, there was a curfew and no overnight guests were permitted… although I’m not entirely sure how closely these rules were followed based on some of the stories I’ve heard AND the fact that it seems the student club leaders were given a key to the gates!

But, despite all these changes, and many more, the history project has also allowed me to reflect on those things that have stayed constant over our 6 decades as a community. There are four important constants that stood out for me:

  • Despite being a more interstate and international cohort, our students still overwhelmingly come from regional and rural communities which was the mission and aspiration of those behind our founding.
  • Despite the rapid growth and expansion of the university around us and while we have grown ourselves, I still believe that we have the perfect sized college that allows for a genuine sense of community…. not too big – not too small – in fact we’re proud to wear the goldilocks name and it’s something I’m personally and absolutely committed to maintaining.
  • Even though the terminology around the shared sink space has changed… moving from ROOMIES to SINKIES… The connections that can emerge from these pairings continue to generate life-long friendships. A shoutout to Cheryl Iser and Clare Grant who are both here today and who I understand started as sinkies back in 1964… there may well be others too. Broadly, even beyond the obvious roomie or sinkie pairing, one thing that hasn’t changed and I doubt ever will is the incredible sense of mateship and comradery that emerge from joining the St Hilda’s community.
  • But overwhelmingly, what stands out to me as remaining resolutely strong since 1964 is the collective belief and commitment to a sense of Communitas. Which for me means a spirit of oneness, inclusivity and service. It has been humbling for me to learn that we were founded by a genuine community, grass roots appeal driven by a few dozen visionaries, mostly women, that was grounded in a keenness to open opportunities to regional, rural and first in family young women to gain access to a world class education.

And it is a pleasure and privilege for me to observe a sense of Communitas still weaved through our current day culture through:

  • Incredible commitment and involvement of our alumni back to our community.
  • Incredible engagement of our current students in a myriad of volunteering, fundraising and social justice programs.
  • I see it every year that we interview new students, everyone seemingly motivated to pursue their field of study so that they may go on to help others less fortunate than them. Prepared to devote their energy to improving the world and helping others.
  • And I’ve seen it each year I’ve been at St Hilda’s through our student leaders who are always asking themselves: what will be my legacy and how can I leave this place in a better shape than I found it?

It’s these hallmarks of community that I hope our founding students are immensely proud of… most of which can be attributed to the culture you established but, of course, also the way in which our founding Principal, Marjorie Smart, lead our community. Marjorie Smart is a name that current students will soon become more familiar with and as the first Principal to oversee our college, it has been a personal pleasure to hear from our founding students of the profound impact she had on their lives. Your memories of the way in which she led with generosity, care and encouragement are a constant source of inspiration to today’s leadership team and while I might not have a beach-house at Cinema Point to offer as a student retreat during SWOTVAC as she often did, I do aspire each day to leave as much of a positive mark on our students lives as she did. I’m certain that if she were here today, she’d be proud of the contributions you all continue to make to our community and the broader community around us.

I’m often asked about what the greatest thing or what my favourite thing about St Hilda’s is. And after sharing 5 years of stories with current and past students, my answer is simple: it’s the friendships, the mateship, the community and most fundamentally, the people. It is an honour to share this moment with you all: two different generations but one collective community and countless life-long friendships.

And in acknowledging this special moment in our history and the incredible people who have called it home, I will finish by saying:

  • To our founding students – thank you and welcome back. You know you will always be welcome here.
  • To our current students – you’ve got big shoes to fill by those who came before you and I look forward to walking alongside you as we take this incredible college forward in to its next 60 years.

Thank you and have a wonderful evening.