Julia Gillard awarded Honorary Doctorate as RMIT celebrates graduates of 2020 and 2021

Julia Gillard awarded Honorary Doctorate as RMIT celebrates graduates of 2020 and 2021

Former Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard AC was awarded an honorary degree at RMIT’s first in-person graduation event since 2019.

A crowd of around 30,000 graduands, family and friends celebrated the Class of 2021, along with graduates from 2020 who missed out on a physical event last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

As part of the ceremony, Gillard was awarded a Doctor of Law honoris causa in recognition of her tireless commitment to education, gender equality and inclusion for all.


RMIT Interim Vice-Chancellor and President Dionne Higgins said Gillard had made an exceptional contribution to both the community and public service throughout her life.

“Her passion for education, gender equality and inclusion, and fierce determination to push the boundaries has delivered nation-changing policies and reformed Australia’s education at every level.

“She continues to create a lasting impact through her work in local, national and international communities, Higgins said.

“We are proud to recognise Ms Gillard’s outstanding achievements and welcome her to the RMIT community – we share her passions, we will learn from her global leadership, and know she will continue to inspire people of all ages."

Live streamed into Marvel Stadium from Adelaide, the former Prime Minister congratulated the students and acknowledged the extra hurdles they’d faced due to the pandemic.

“Successfully finishing a course of study is always a milestone that deserves a celebration,” Gillard said.

“But that is doubly true now, given how hard the last couple of years have been for everyone.” 

“I know, you as students, would have found the pandemic disruption and the loss of campus contact especially difficult. You would have had to summon even more perseverance and resilience to get through. But you’ve made it and today is your day,” she said.

“Today is about celebrating individual achievement but it is also about us collectively celebrating the transformative power of education which is the foundation for building a life of empowerment and choice,” she said.

More than 8,000 students attended RMIT’s unique graduation ceremony, conducted across 22 stages and featuring live entertainment from Australian band Peking Duk and Gamilaraay singer, songwriter and musician Thelma Plum.

Overall, around 15,700 RMIT students from across Vocational Education, Higher Education, Higher Degree by Research (PhD) completed this year.

Among them was Shamsiya Hussanpoor who arrived in Australia 14 years ago from Afghanistan, graduating with a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism).and a deep determination to become a “voice for the voiceless”.

“I often look back and think how funny it is that 14 years ago I couldn’t speak a word of English and now I’m graduating with a degree in journalism,” she said.

“The thing that really drew me to journalism was the idea that I could represent hijabi women in the Australian media.”

Graduating with a Bachelor of Justice and Criminology (Honors), Michelle Gissara is an inspirational Kardu Diminin woman already using her own lived experience and studies to make a difference in her community and beyond.

“I have had a really good experience at RMIT thanks to the Ngarara Willim Centre that supports Indigenous students, because it’s like a family environment,” she said

“The staff support you step-by- step and introduce you to university life and all the things you can get involved in.”

Congratulations to all RMIT’s 2021 graduates! Resilient and inspiring in the face of huge obstacles, they are truly in a class of their own. RMIT is excited to welcome the newest members into our global alumni network, spanning more than 140 countries and 478,000 alumni.


Story: Karen Phelan

16 December 2021


  • Alumni
  • Student experience

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.