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Ms van Zon told about 360 University of Otago graduates in arts, music, theology and applied science that she had started at Otago about 50 years ago.
‘‘I look back over those 50 years and feel lucky that I have had some extraordinary experiences, challenges and fun alongside hard work, sadness and a few bad times.’’
Ms van Zon lives in Otaki, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws at yesterday’s ceremony.
She has had a four-decade career which included serving as director of both the Auckland Arts Festival and the New Zealand International Arts Festival.
She told graduates attending a 1pm graduation ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall that she had chosen to study physical education and contemporary dance.
‘‘As an immigrant child of parents who loved this country, I was lucky because as outsiders, they embraced everybody and everything.
‘‘So be curious, be open to people and experiences, take slow steps and enjoy the journeys down different pathways.’’
As an arts festival director, she had to ‘‘proactively seek to commission and present work by Maori, Pacific and Asian artists and by women’’.
‘‘I believe we need to fight for equality everywhere and constantly, including in the board rooms, in the media, in law firms, in labs, in our theatres and music venues and in our daily life.’’
Addressing a second graduation ceremony, at 4pm, Prof Sarah Young challenged more than 380 graduates in science to think about the wider skills they needed to be successful.
Prof Young, who heads the Otago pathology department, also urged graduates to ‘‘contribute back to the society that has invested in you’’.
Like her, many of her friends had been the first people in their family to attend university.
After a big rise over the years, about a third of school leavers now attended university — a government investment to ensure we grew the skills of the population to ‘‘contribute to the economy and other challenges facing our communities’’.
In the future, many new jobs would be created, others would disappear and many jobs would be taken over by artificial intelligence.
Critical complex thinking and problem solving, social skills, teamwork and the ability to learn new skills were all essential and were linked to success in the workplace, she said.