Social justice and Indigenous issues are subjects close to the heart of University of Queensland Arts Valedictorian Amila Sargeant.
But that wasn’t what she was considering when she began her Bachelor of Arts in French and Conflict Studies and Diploma in Spanish five years ago.
“I think a lot of the extra-curricular things that I’ve been able to do through UQ have changed my world view,” Amila said.
“I definitely don’t feel the same person I was when I came here, and I was particularly influenced by the Universitas 21 Social Entrepreneur scholarship in Guatemala in 2015.”
“I felt quite strong connections with the people we were working with.
“Things like seeing children begging you don’t really forget, and it shifts your focus from being preoccupied with superficial things, to thinking wow, I have to do something of meaning.”
She credits her family, particularly her parents with inspiring her social conscience.
“A lot of people don’t have that connection with their parents – they don’t feel inspired by them, but I feel really blessed because both my parents have said do whatever you want.”
She said she was also grateful for some of the incredible lecturers she’s encountered at UQ, including Dr Sebastian Kaempf, Dr Alissa Macoun and Dr Elizabeth Strakosch, as well as Dr Roberto Esposto and Dr Sol Rojas-Lizana at the Spanish school.
“Studying languages and hanging around with immigrants and Indigenous friends has made me feel driven to influence Indigenous policy or immigration policy as an ally.
“You can’t really have justice in a society, a settled society, if you don’t find a way to empower people.
“Everything I have learnt suggests that you can’t expect Indigenous health outcomes and education outcomes, and wellness to improve if people don’t have control over their own lives.”
Amila is also thankful to have the chance to speak at her graduation, inspired by those who have gone before her.
“It’s a privilege to be able to speak in front of so many people at an important moment.
“There have been some pretty amazing valedictorian speeches where they’ve managed to incorporate some pretty important topics.”
She hopes to do the same before taking the next step in her career, a Juris Doctor program at Macquarie.
“It is a very exciting sounding program to me, because they actually have a social justice major within that law program,” she said.
“I’ve been very lucky and I feel like I have more of a mission now.”