Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
December 2010 Issue
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Celebrating a golden era

More than 100 University of Adelaide alumni recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of their graduation.

The Golden Jubilee saw graduates from 1960 return to the scene of their original graduation, Bonython Hall, for a commemoration ceremony followed by a luncheon at the stately Mortlock Chamber of the State Library.

115 graduates - from as far away as the US and the UK - were addressed by Vice-Chancellor Professor James McWha and Development and Alumni Director Robyn Brown.

Professor McWha paid tribute to the achievements of the class of 1960 and gave an update on the current position of the University.

"As you can see, it is a very exciting time for the University as we continue to position ourselves as a great research university," he said. "But we would not be in this position today if not for those, such as you, who have gone before us."

One of those who travelled the furthest to be there, Professor Brian Matthews from Oregon in the US, arguably also had the most to celebrate, having just received an honorary degree from his alma mater at the September graduation ceremonies.

Professor Matthews graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 1960 and has gone on to a distinguished academic career, primarily in the US at the University of Oregon, in the field known now as structural biology.

"It is very flattering - I never expected to be recognised in that way," he said of his honorary degree.

"I'd actually trained to be a teacher and went through the Teachers College. I also had a job lined up at Unley High, but had to tell the Principal that I couldn't accept because I had received a fellowship to complete my PhD in structural studies.

"It went on to become my career and I'm pretty sure I made the right choice!"

Fellow 1960 graduate and philanthropist Bob Cowan gave the Golden Jubilee keynote address, reminiscing about life both on and off campus.

Mr Cowan said his family has found great satisfaction in helping young rural and regional people to go to university. Since its establishment in 1993, his family's philanthropic trust, Cowan Grant, has helped about 700 rural and regional students in meeting university costs - for a total of more than $1.7 million.

Mr Cowan graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Science (Forestry) before completing a Diploma in Forestry at the then Australian Forestry School in Canberra and postgraduate studies in forestry at the University of Oxford.

His 32-year career in the forest and timber industries in South Australia's south-east included responsibility for the State's forest operations and the commercial sawmills at Mt Gambier, Mt Burr and Nangwarry. Mr Cowan was also a United Nations consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, among other distinguished positions.

His family's connection to the University of Adelaide started with his father, Bill Cowan, who was the Barr Smith Librarian from 1936 to 1964, and his mother, Marnie, who was chairwoman of the University's Wives Club. Bob's son Leigh graduated in Engineering in 1990.

Bill, Marnie and their three children wanted to give something back and, at the same time, help young people from the country to get the same start in life that the Cowan family had received.

"All three generations benefited from scholarships and grants to university," Mr Cowan said. "We are country people and we are well aware of the difficulties faced by rural families and how that can be an impediment to young people going to university.

"We've found that just a small amount of help financially can be so important. Not only do the students receive financial support but this also gives them an immeasurable boost of confidence. It can show the students that someone has faith in them, and this is a very powerful motivator."

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Story by Ben Osborne and Robyn Mills

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Graduate from 1960, Brian Matthews
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Graduates from 1960
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For more news on the research and educational achievements of the University & our alumni read the University's bi-annual magazine, Lumen.