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Speaking during a convocation ceremony at the Forsyth Barr Stadium last night, Ngai Tahu kaumatua Edward Ellison and Mr Cull welcomed the students to the city.
Mr Cull added that students - most of them coming from outside Dunedin and Otago - were not regarded as "strangers'' simply passing through.
They were a highly valued and "hugely important'' part of Dunedin's population, in all respects, "and not just economically''.
Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy also welcomed the students, and said study at Otago University would give them a "toolbox'' of ideas and would greatly broaden their horizons.
University music student Lani Alo, accompanying himself on guitar, won a standing ovation with a powerful rendition of the Michael Jackson hit Man in the Mirror.
Vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne challenged students to "make great memories'' in an "amazing'' university community, and also to speak up if they saw poor behaviour or anyone being treated unfairly.