Awards recognise outstanding alumni as global change makers

Published 29 September 2018
Poto Williams 2018 Outstanding Alumni of the Year Poto Williams has been named the 2018 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year.

New Zealand Member of Parliament Poto Williams and global mural artist Guido van Helten have been named the 2018 Outstanding Alumnus and the Young Alumnus of the Year, respectively, at Southern Cross University’s annual awards recognising exceptional achievement and outstanding service.

Guido van Helten 2018 Young Alumnus of the Year
Guido van Helten, in front of his mural at the Gold Coast campus, is the 2018 Young Alumnus of the Year.

The Australian University, with campuses in Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Gold Coast on the country’s east coast, welcomed home more than 50 global change makers to the highly-anticipated Alumni of the Year Awards last night.

Ms Williams is the first New Zealander of Cook Islander heritage to be elected as Member of Parliament, and the first of Pacific Islander heritage to become Speaker in the House of Representatives. As a survivor of domestic violence, an advocate for child safety and a representative for many ethnic minorities in her country, the proud NZ Labour Party member took a weekend out of her busy schedule to travel to Lismore, Australia where she was bestowed Southern Cross University’s top alumni honour.

“It’s a real honour to receive this award from my peers and the extraordinary alumni assembled here tonight. I am so grateful to Southern Cross University and the community it has given me – it’s like being part of a global family,” Ms Williams said at the ceremony.

Ms Williams has worked in the community sector for most of her professional life, including in disability, community health, family violence and was working at a community mental health organisation when, at age 48, she studied an MBA online through Southern Cross University with, she said, an “amazing community of other students of all ages who have become dear friends” before being elected as a Member of Parliament for Christchurch five years ago.

Earlier in the day Ms Williams headlined the all-female ‘Conversations that Matter’ inaugural alumni panel which was livestreamed on the University's social media channels. With profound stories to tell from her own life, and from working so closely with other powerful females including her boss New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Ms Williams’ contribution to the discussion was as impactful as it was inspiring.

“Education is the way forward and I am so glad I discovered Southern Cross University’s MBA program. The opportunity for extra training to advance my career was really compelling and I met the most incredible network of other mature age students who I keep in contact with to this day,” said Ms Williams, who has put her professional doctorate on hold while serving in parliament.

“My main message to people is for the find within themselves that strength and ability to be who they really care to be, to overcome the issues of the past and to make their mark in the world.

“In terms of empowering women specifically, we definitely need more women in parliament, as we bring such a different way of working to these institutions which is desperately needed. If you remove Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific has the lowest rates of women in parliament in the world. We need to ensure women are represented and I am really passionate about ensuring women get into parliament and significant leadership roles.”

2018 Young Alumnus of the Year Winner Guido van Helten has made his mark around the globe with more than 60 large-scale photo-realistic murals, with commissions across the world throughout Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, the United States and Australia. Most of the photos he takes himself, followed by the mural process taking anywhere from a few hours, such as the commissioned piece inside the abandoned Chernobyl plant, to a few weeks resulting in masterpieces like the 50-metre ‘Nations’ tower in Nashville.

Guido was born in Melbourne, grew up in Brisbane and studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Southern Cross University Lismore campus majoring in Printmaking, graduating in 2008.

In February this year, Guido returned to Australia to his own patch in South East Queensland for a month and with 50 litres of paint transformed two walls of Southern Cross University’s 10-storey Gold Coast campus building with a breathtaking image of two lifelike figures.

Currently residing in the USA, Guido was unable to attend the Lismore Alumni of the Year Awards dinner so sent a video of his acceptance speech.

“I’d like to thank Southern Cross as this is a huge honour for me, and especially to everyone who worked with me earlier in the year on the Gold Coast mural installation and also from my time as a student, you guys have supported me all the way through,” he said.

His site-specific murals blend an appreciation of architecture, cultural influence and history through photorealistic imagery based on his own photographs or historic images of the community. In 2016, he famously transformed the small country town of Brim in regional Victoria into a tourist destination in less than a month when he battled dust storms and scorching temperatures to paint four local farmers on a row of 30-metre high wheat silos.

Watch the video here detailing how Guido unveiled his masterpiece this year at Southern Cross University Gold Coast campus overlooking North Kirra Beach, the Gold Coast Highway and next to the Gold Coast Airport.


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