Saturday, 19 January 2013, 6.00pm
Chancellor, thank you for your introduction and I am grateful for the opportunity to talk this evening.
Ladies and gentlemen good evening.
Graduates I congratulate you on reaching a milestone in your life, and the commencement of what should be a very exciting period - exactly how exciting is up to you, and I would like to talk about a couple of things on my journey so far that may be of interest. The first is a tale of change, and the increasing need to accept change as the norm. I will follow with a story about opportunity, and advice that you should grasp every opportunity you get. Finally, each of us has the ability to make a difference, and now is your time to use your natural, and also hard worked for, talents.
Let me begin with change. It is often cited as a cliché that "the pace of change is accelerating" - well is it?
Just over 11 years ago I arrived at work at 8 am as usual. Little did I realise that at that precise moment an event was unfolding, related to my work, that would change the world.
At that time I was working for the world's largest airline - United - and living in Chicago, USA. In my role I was responsible for strategic planning for the international division of the airline.
In the months leading up to this event, we had been successful in putting a case to the Board of Directors for rapid expansion of the international division and the Board had approved substantial capital funding to buy new aircraft and open new routes.
On September 11, 2001 I walked into the World Headquarters of United Airlines at the same time as our 767 was flying into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. The world would subsequently change forever.
Fortunately events such as September 11 happen rarely.
It is a tribute to the staff of United that, notwithstanding the massive shock being experienced throughout the company, America, and the whole world, within eight hours of this event we had our first team of people on a bus to Boston, where most of the passengers on the flight came from, to help their families get through their shock and grief.
Personally September 11 was a cathartic experience for me, and helped to forge my personal values and beliefs. Needless to say the growth strategy was torn up and overnight the world experienced what was to become a prolonged drop in demand for air travel of over 30%.
As I mentioned, luckily we don't have many September 11's, but the issue is that people need to be ready for unseen circumstances and for change. I guarantee you that things will happen throughout your career that you do not expect, but the ability to accept and embrace change will help you achieve your goals in the future.
One of our goals is for ECU graduates to be valued for their "Ability to generate ideas", and to do so while "having the courage and confidence to be creative and innovative." This is at the core of your studies at ECU - creativity and innovation. I implore you in the future to be the best you can in all your pursuits, as opportunities will arise in very unexpected places.
A quick story - has anyone here tonight ever flown on Skywest Airlines? In a previous role, I worked with Skywest, and in 2002 we were in the process of rebranding the airline after the collapse of Ansett, which used to own Skywest.
Rather than employ a famous fashion icon to design our new flight attendant uniforms, we ran a competition open to any design student from WA.
The competition was eventually won by two young ladies - then 19 and 20 years old - and ten years later Skywest still has the uniforms that were designed by these young ladies - a lasting legacy to their abilities, but more importantly, their willingness to have a go, and risk failure.
Finally, each and every one of you can make a difference in your own life, and the lives of others.
During my first career I was in the Navy for over 13 years - I am a navigator by profession, before I went back to university at age 32 to study a MBA.
I had an unusual military career, in that in addition to navigating patrol boats and destroyers, I was very lucky in that for 5 of those 13 years I worked on the Sail Training Ship Young Endeavour (which is similar to the Leeuwin here in WA).
The Young Endeavour's role is to take young people on a voyage of discovery for the purpose of character development and leadership training through experiential education.
During a particular voyage in 1993 I met Simon, a street kid from Adelaide. Simon had a very hard and sad life in his short 17 years - he had been abandoned by his parents, substance abuse, in and out of juvenile detention, and was at the time living with his grandparents who were lovely people. They were also desperate to help Simon and their last roll of the dice was to send him to Young Endeavour.
When they joined the ship, the youth crew of Young Endeavour were divided into groups, or "watches", and we put best person on the job with Simon - our cook - as his watch leader, similar to a mentor.
There were some wins and losses during the two-week voyage with Simon - however at the end we thought he may go back to his old ways, despite him having a great time, and trying to fit in as best he could.
Six months later, we were sailing peacefully through the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland, when the ship's mobile phone rang... it was Simon's Grandmother who asked to speak to the Captain. I said, "You’re speaking with him".
Simon's grandmother asked me if I remembered him, to which I answered yes - I remembered him very well.
Simon's grandmother reported that he had a job; he was not running with the street kids anymore; he respected his grandparents and their home; and that he wanted to come back to visit the Young Endeavour when we were next in Adelaide. She rang up just to thank the staff of Young Endeavour for helping her grandson.
Just telling this story still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was just an ordinary person doing my job, but this success is one of the proudest achievements of my life. We had changed the life of at least one kid through our personal efforts, and there were probably many more.
Graduates, you have the opportunity to change peoples' lives. "Reach Your Potential" is not a hollow slogan - it is a truly noble aspiration and exhortation to be unsatisfied with being ordinary.
When you get down or stressed in the future remember your higher purpose - accept and embrace change, grasp opportunities when they present themselves, and make a difference!.
You clearly have the capability as evidenced by your magnificent achievement in graduating today, and I wish you all the best on your journey in the future.
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