Cybernetics, an opportunity for connection

Mikaela Jade’s 2022 Commencement Speech, ANU School of Cybernetics

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Written by: ANU School of Cybernetics
22 Feb 2022

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Mikaela Jade, Master of Applied Cybernetics 2020.
Mikaela Jade, Master of Applied Cybernetics 2020.

“I’m just a normal person, a small business owner, who was sitting where you are only two years ago wondering where an advanced degree at ANU in cybernetics would take me, and indeed, wondering what cybernetics was at all. Evidently, I can tell you two years later that cybernetics profoundly affects us all and I can recommend you take a look at the school. The people there are building, managing, and decommissioning our AI-enabled future.”

Mikaela Jade is a Cybernetics Alumna, founder of IndigitalEdu, and the 2021 Indigenous Leader of the Year. Mikaela began as an environmental biologist and has spent most of her career as a National Parks Ranger. Mikaela is also the founder of her award-winning company, Indigital, which is developing innovative new ways to digitise and translate knowledge and culture from remote and ancient communities through augmented and mixed reality technologies.

As a Cabrogal woman, she was chosen as one of 21 Indigenous entrepreneurs to attend the Prime Minister’s Reception for Indigenous Innovators and Entrepreneurs in Canberra. She is also a United Nations Permanent Forum Indigenous Issues delegate, Tribal Link Alumni member (New York), Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Wollongong and Fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, and one of the 2021 Australian’s 100 Top Innovators.

Cybernetics Alumna, Mikaela Jade, Commencement Address at the 2022 ANU Orientation week:#

This is a full transcript of Mikaela Jade’s speech.

Thank you Dr House for your warm welcome to Ngambri-Ngunnawal Country, and thank you the Ngambri and Ngunnawal peoples’ who so generously host my family on your beautiful Country. You are the lifeblood of this land. Thank you to Aunty Anne Martin at the Tjabal Centre who has so big heartedly wiped my tears, celebrated the moments of success while I was a student at ANU. I would like to pay my respects to all Elders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples joining us today, and indeed our brothers and sisters across the world joining us too. I stand in solidarity with you for our lands and ways of knowing, being and doing that were never ceded. I am a Cabrogal Woman of the Dharug speaking nation and it is a great honour to address you today.

I would also like to acknowledge the people who are the lifeblood of this university who continue to hold space for ideas for change and an undying optimism for the future together with our peoples: Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell, Professor Katherine Daniell, Professor Alex Zafiroglu, Ellen Broad, Maya Gould, Andrew Meares, and the team at the School of Cybernetics. I continue to walk forward with your lessons, and ask much better, and many, many more questions than I have the answers for.

At the end of 2021, while I was standing in the middle of the Jabal Ali Desert in the United Arab Emirates in the middle of World Expo I received an email from Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, asking me to deliver the Commencement Speech for 2022. After checking it wasn’t a mistaken email intended for someone else, and that a Nobel Prize-winner had in fact emailed me, my first response back to him was, are you sure? I’m just a normal person, a small business owner, who was sitting where you are only two years ago wondering where an advanced degree at ANU in cybernetics would take me, and indeed, wondering what cybernetics was at all.

Evidently I can tell you two years later that cybernetics profoundly affects us all and I can recommend you take a look at the school. The people there are building, managing and decommissioning our AI-enabled future.

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Thank you for bringing me back here, to share what I know is true: this Commencement Speech won’t change your life but this place will. It offers not only an invitation to learn but also an invitation for non-Indigenous and Indigenous people to reconcile and build a shared future.

That is indeed what brought me to ANU. The opportunity for connection, transformation, and carving out precious space and time working with others on actualising this future. At this place, you will only be limited by your imagination and your ability to bring others along.

I am not special, but I am connected to something bigger than myself. This connection came through what was sometimes deeply painful transformation. I am connected to my ancestors, my family, my Country. When you are prepared for transformation, you are prepared to change the world, which begins with this opportunity starting today, to transform yourself. You have taken this step by being here.

On Nura, our Dharug word for Country, everything is connected in a complete system. This same system is replicated from the expanse of the galaxy to the tiniest cells in our bodies. You can see it from your aeroplane seat when you look at the vast river systems from above, which look like the branches of a lightning storm, the branches of a tree, the veins and creases in your hand, like the blood vessels in your body. We are connected to Country and each other through the laws of nature, literally etched onto us. A reminder of this is to simply take your shoes off on Ngunnawal-Ngambri Country to ground yourself to this place. Be connected to this Country.

Connection is also deeply human. I can tell you as a person who was removed from my culture, and understanding of who my people are, knowing not just where you come from, but who you can from can transform you. Knowing my Cabrogal Heritage, and being able to walk with my Elders, particularly Aunty Julie Webb, Aunty Leanne Watson, Aunty Leanne Tobin, Aunty Corina Norman, Uncle Lexoudious Dadd and many others including my Sister Cassandra Rowe allowed me to lift the scales from my eyes, and reach my full potential. First Nations Peoples’ are not the only ones with ancestors – we all have them. As with my people, your ancestors imagined you and they walk with you in your dna, they are a part of you. Acknowledge them. One day, you may have descendants and family that look to you for their inspiration. Take this opportunity to be responsible to them, to guide them in the same ways your ancestors brought you to this place, today. Be connected to your people.

For all our connectedness, there are opposites in this system, which ripple out to the universe when they collide. You will also feel that here at times, where your identity, connectivity, and your ways of knowing, being and doing feel cataclysmically challenged by others. Take these opportunities as gifts to explore not just your differences, but your similarities. You will learn to look through different lenses here, the greatest challenge of which is to do so with curiosity, and humility. I recently had a conversation with someone who was deeply opposed to the important issues of my people like land rights, and truth telling. To his credit, he took a long bushwalk with me, and as we sat on a remote ridge surveying the vastness of my Country, tears filled his eyes and he apologised. Your ancestors had everything, and mine took that away from them. I was ignorant of your people, and your experience he said. Tears filled my eyes as I said, “I was ignorant of yours. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to carry that shame”. Two very different people connecting in a moment. These are the moments that transform the world.

Transformation has been the cornerstone of our culture since time began. Our sacred and beautiful nura, our Country constantly teaches us of change. The Mountains change in to valleys, the river changes in to the sea, our warriors transform into crows keeping a watchful eye on our Country, and our Elders transform in to black cockatoos who echo across the landscape to remind us of our responsibilities to Country and each other. My kinship figure, the Garraway or white cockatoo, flies beside me to remind me of the strength of my ancestors within and around me. Calling me to pay attention to the little things I might be overlooking at any given point in my day.

Bunnerong Elder Uncle Mick recently challenge me to see a tree. ‘What do you see Mikaela? What does a tree do? My science-brain engaged – it’s a complex system Uncle Mick of photosynthesis, capillary actions and maintenance respiration which creates oxygen for all of us to breathe. The Garraway shrieked overhead of the huge mother tree we were looking at, nah Sister he jibed. This tree is the complete angler shop. I see fishing rods, and branches for making fish traps, ropes for making fishing line, and those caterpillar that live on that are the best lure you’ll ever use. The fish around here can’t get enough of that tucker. If you know that you won’t go without a feed.

All knowledge is important, but has a right time, and a right place, and a right context. Some things you learn here might shape global policies, make new discoveries and earn you a great salary. Some will be as ancient as our species and keep you alive when you need it most.

All the knowledge in the universe in on or connected to this university but remember where to look for it. It’s not just in the library or the lecture theatre where the biggest lessons can be discovered. Maybe, it’s just in a conversation under a tree.

You might be here as the first in your family to go to university, or the last in a long line of celebrated thought leaders. You might be here with all the excitement of a new adventure, or trepidation for leaving your homeland and loved ones in distant places. You might be here because you chose your path, or because it was chosen for you. But you are here, on this place, Ngunnawal-Ngnambri Country.

I urge you to think just one thing, in the early hours of the morning when the grind of the assignment threatens to conquer you, or you consider skipping your class for far more social endeavours, or you feel like giving it all up completely. Stop what you are doing, take your shoes off and reconnect to Country and instead of thinking ‘I have to….replace that thought with ‘I get to…..’.

Thank you.

Watch Mikaela’s address and her interview with the ANU College of Engineering and computer science.

Watch the full ANU Commencement Address.

You are on Aboriginal land.

The Australian National University acknowledges, celebrates and pays our respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of the Canberra region and to all First Nations Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and work, and whose cultures are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

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