Optometry: Willy Gunawan

Willy Gunawan's passion for making a positive contribution to the community is reflected in his establishment of The Inspiring Young Student award in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, which recognises students who are making a difference to the lives' of others.


Why did you study at the University of Melbourne?

As a 17 year old high-school graduate I did not think much about what I wanted out of life or my career. I chose to study Optometry at University of Melbourne having followed my family members as well as the career officers’ advice – can you blame a 17 year old for not knowing what they want for their future?!

For me, the choice turned out to be the best thing that has happened to me. Optometry has given me so many opportunities and immense job satisfaction. Work has become something I look forward to every day of the week.

At the same time, I understand that not everyone is as fortunate and has found satisfaction with their career choice in their first attempt. This is why I am a big proponent of the new Melbourne Curriculum. It allows students to be exposed to more subjects and make a life-changing decision with a more informed and mature mind.

What are your strongest memories from your time at the University?

Optometry has a very small cohort, so naturally over the five years you develop strong friendships and comraderies in and outside of university. I have a lot of fond memories of our time at university but, funnily enough, I don’t recall an adequate amount of it to write here.

What I do recall is walking to and from the Royal Exhibition Building before and after exams, the nervousness of waiting for an exam, and finding out that other fellow students answered questions differently to mine following an exam always made my heart skip a few beats.

What goals did you set yourself when you finished your degree, and have you stuck to that plan?

I am less of a planner, and more of a dreamer.

During my studies I began to see optometry as a primary health profession with a lot of scope to grow. I have always dreamt of looking back on my career and feeling that I had contributed to the community and to my profession.

After graduating, I took the big plunge and started a private practice without much planning. It was tough at times, but I have always found it easy to persevere because I knew deep down that this has always been my dream and what I wanted all along.

What/who motivated you the most at University?

My parents.

I grew up with some unconventional parenting – I was never really praised when I did things well, nor blamed when I failed. My parents always ask me a question, often without knowing or caring whether I have succeeded or failed: have you tried your best?

It truly explains why I am not one that plans or sets goals, because I was never raised in plan/goal-centric upbringing. Instead, I was raised to always ask myself in every situation: have I tried my very best?

As a child, I always hated that because it felt like no matter what I achieved my parents were never really pleased with me. As I get older, I have come to realise that my parents were trying to instil in me an important lesson in life. Asking me if I have tried my best allows me to always strive to do better, at the same time asking such a question also allows me to forgive myself whenever I fail.

What advice do you have for current students?

Count your blessings each day – there are others worse off than you.

Accept that some people are just born lucky, and some are better Instagrammers than you.

Be in the moment.

When you study, do your best and study.

When you are on holiday, do your best to enjoy yourself.

The worst thing you can do is to daydream about your holiday when you’re studying; and worry about your results on your holiday.

Why did you decide to establish the Inspiring Young Student award in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences?

I feel that often students are very passionate about their profession and they go above and beyond their study by doing great things in the community. Students should be acknowledged for the initiative, selflessness and motivation they take to make a positive difference even before they have graduated.

What sort of students do you want to recognise with this prize?

Those that are doing their bit to make a difference to the community and their future profession.

The Inspiring Young Student award is an avenue for one of the many inspiring students to stand up and highlight some actions that they’ve taken to make a positive contribution to the community, the profession, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

What motivated you to make a philanthropic gift to the University of Melbourne?

Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city, with Australia’s best university - the University of Melbourne. No doubt both city and university owe their success to the combined effort and contributions of many individuals throughout history; and surely it will require more effort and contributions in its future to remain successful.

I am only doing my best, with what I have – to try and be a part of its success story.