Class of 2020 valedictorian: "graduation is a time to reflect"

15 Feb 2021

When former professional footballer Justin Clarke was forced out of his dream job with the Brisbane Lions, he made the decision to study engineering and science at The University of Queensland and hasn’t looked back since.

In February 2021, he celebrated the end of his time at UQ by presenting the valedictory address to his classmates, family, friends and UQ staff in the UQ Centre in St Lucia:

“Tonight, we are celebrating the culmination of our degrees at UQ, a moment in time which provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on our respective journeys through life thus far, and particularly our time at UQ.

For me, my UQ journey began in a unique manner. In January 2016, I was forced out of my dream job as a professional footballer with the Brisbane Lions due to a severe concussion. Battling ongoing symptoms, I had lost my direction in life and a large part of my identity.

Fortunately, I enrolled at UQ and embarked on a journey which would seem familiar to many of you. I joined a club, made friends during tutorials and group projects, and most importantly, became engaged in learning about topics I was passionate about. I grew as a person, and found purpose within these sandstone walls.

Justin Clark

Each of us has our own university memories, hurdles overcome, friendships built, and knowledge gained. I encourage each of you to reflect on your own journey, not only to celebrate your terrific achievements, but to better understand your own values and passions, and how they align with your future. For amongst the turmoil that came when my football career abruptly concluded, the importance of pursuing a career that I’m passionate about became abundantly clear.

So, I encourage each of you to use the knowledge and experiences you have gained whilst at UQ to help make a better future, and to pursue goals which align with your values and passions.

As we transition into our next chapter of life, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff for their outstanding tutelage, working tirelessly to impart their vast knowledge and pushing each of us to strive for excellence.

You provided a platform for us to not only gain familiarity with complex concepts, but also to develop our capacity to critically analyse and evaluate information, an ability which is vital in making educated and informed decisions regarding all aspects of life.

Justin Clark

Thank you for your time, energy and knowledge that you bestowed on us.

To our friends, family and partners who have supported us through our respective journeys, I thank you for putting up with the doubt, late nights and stress, and for providing the support required to help us through the tough times and to enjoy the good times. It is difficult to overstate your influence on our individual accomplishments, so please join me in showing our appreciation for their support.

Finally, congratulations to each of the graduates: your ability, hard work and perseverance has made it possible for this moment to occur, enjoy the recognition tonight provides and let it act as a spur for your ongoing journey. I wish you the very best in your future endeavours, congratulations again and good luck.”

Clarke completed his Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) and Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) degree in 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and is about to begin his next chapter in the UK as a Research Assistant with the hypersonics group at Oxford University.

After claiming the prestigious title of Queensland’s 2021 Rhodes Scholar, Clarke will then begin his Doctor of Philosophy studies with the Oxford research group in October 2021.