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Addressing the first of two Otago University graduation ceremonies, at 1pm, she urged arts graduates to speak out, and to highlight what the humanities had to offer.
Ms Williams, who is Mataurangi Maori curator at Te Papa, was addressing more than 320 graduates in arts, music, theology and with bachelor of applied science degrees, in the Dunedin Town Hall ceremony.
Some previous Otago graduation addresses had been ''tinged with nostalgia'' for earlier ''firebrand days'' on campus, but she warned that, throughout the country, ''the areas you have studied in, and that I feel passionately about, have irrevocably changed''.
This year there had been ''major changes and closures'' , including in humanities departments, throughout the country, and she referred to some Otago humanities cuts, and the phasing out by 2020 of art history teaching at the Otago University history and art history department.
This was why ''the arts need you'', and she warned that ''the numbers of students taking the path that many of you have taken, has drastically shrunk, even in the time you have enrolled''.
''No longer are you arts students, for you have now become advocates, ambassadors, emissaries for the arts.''
The arts brought many delights and benefits and graduates ''must share with others the greatness of arts in Aotearoa'', she said.
In a later 4pm graduation address, former Air New Zealand chief executive Norman Geary urged about 380 graduates in commerce and law to ''be bold'' and to ''challenge yourself and your organisations''.
He said that ''being a good person is crucial to success'' and to ''challenge the status quo''.
He outlined how he had tackled his ''biggest personal risk'' by becoming chief executive officer of Air New Zealand in 1982 and how he had helped turn around the fortunes of the organisation, whose staff had been ''demotivated, demoralised and worried about the future''.
He also reflected his successful advocacy for a private sector-led tourism board - now Tourism New Zealand - to develop in-bound tourism more effectively.
When the board was founded in 1991, international visitors had spent $2.6billion a year, which had since grown to more than $12billion.
He recalled that his wife Marianne had once said of him: ''Norman doesn't have a too-hard basket''.
He agreed and urged graduates not to ''put major issues in the too-hard basket''.