Sunday, 15 September 2013
I would firstly like to thank the Vice-Chancellor and the University for the invitation to address you today. I consider it an honour to be able to speak to you on such a memorable occasion as this graduation ceremony.
The point of reference for my speech today was my own graduation from the Royal Military College Duntroon as a young Lieutenant. I was keen, fit, and probably a bit brash; and thought I was ready to take on the world. I even had two shiny pips on both shoulders to prove it. Yes, I thought I had finally made it!
Within two years of graduating, I found myself in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a country that had been at war for many years. I was, after 48 hours of travel and no sleep, thrown into this war zone, told to load my rifle with live bullets (‘what other bullets are there?’ I hear you say – well we had cost-cutting in the late 70’s and most training was done with blank ammunition – using live ammo was virtually unheard of so it meant serious action was coming!), and to prepare for attacks and road ambushes. In effect I was told to be prepared for immediate fighting action. I remember this like it was yesterday, and I remember thinking, “I wish I had listened to my instructors more at Duntroon, I wish I had concentrated on becoming really proficient at my chosen profession, and I wish I had done those things rather than play football, go to parties and chase girls!’ I also remember my next thought which was ‘I better do some refresher training really quickly or I could be going home in a body bag!’
The reason for this story is that my graduation, and I suspect all university graduations, was the beginning of something big. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know what that beginning was – it was the beginning of taking responsibility for myself, my actions and my consequences.
So let me tell you about the responsibilities you begin to shoulder as of today.
The first responsibility you have is to not stop your learning. Over the last few years the University has set some demanding standards for you – because you are sitting here today, I know you have met or surpassed these tests. You have been given time to think, ask questions, inquire, conduct analysis, you have read much, written much and debated points of issue. The way you have handled all this makes up what you have become: someone who doesn’t just follow the pack, someone who doesn’t just believe everything they hear, someone who has the ability to logically and rationally consider their position. My advice is not to give up this change easily, and the reason for this will become clearer in a few minutes.
The second responsibility you have, certainly built on the university environment of ‘question and consider’ is the responsibility to ask yourself “What is it that I can do better?” Pushing yourself and challenging your environment is your legacy – it goes to fulfilling your ambition and your dreams, and the gift you have been given through a university education. For I put to you, that while graduating is an achievement worthy of acknowledgement, you will not make your dreams and ambitions a reality without a fierce determination to push yourself. Sporting analogies often illustrate this point best, and I often remind myself that ‘If I am not moving forward then I am actually standing still, and others will go past me”. I especially acknowledge all those graduates who are awarded their degrees, graduate diplomas and doctorates today – you are all certainly ‘moving forward’!
The third responsibility again follows on from the first two and that is to set yourself to ‘solve problems, not make them’. Your university education, where you have had the opportunity to ask ‘so what?’, ‘what good is this?’, ‘what difference will this make?’, ‘what impact does this have?’, is all designed around you solving problems. I am not talking about your chosen profession. I am talking about the problems confronting your community, for these are the problems of your time.
What you have achieved through your university education is the ability to see a problem, and then do something about it. This may be through advocacy, research, personal attention, personal example and even support for organisations like Red Cross, who can make a difference at a local, national or global level. Issues of gender inequality, Indigenous disadvantage, effects of migration, global warming, the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, and even the marginalising effects of public policies – all these are problems that require solutions, and these are the problems of your time and your place in the world. Believe it or not, you are equipped to have views, ideas and solutions. Also, believe it or not, we are relying on you to play your role in moving us all forward.
The fourth and last responsibility I want to talk about is that I strongly encourage you to trust yourself. Trust your knowledge, skills and analytical ability, but more importantly trust your morals, ethics and your instincts. You need to believe you can make a difference, and believe you can achieve success.
Towards the end of my military career, I was confronted with a situation that brought this issue to mind. I was threatened, along with five of my advisors, with being murdered by a group of Bougainville Revolutionary Army commanders - not once but three times within 15 minutes. We were unarmed and they were heavily armed with weapons and knives. I had no doubt they were serious. I remember staying very calm, staying in control, and remember that not one thought of ‘this is it – been a good life but here it ends’ ever entered my thinking – it certainly did later but not when I was really being tested! No, all I can recollect is that I trusted my training, my instincts and my ability to get my men, and myself, out of what one would describe as a ‘sticky situation’. It was a great lesson and one that you can learn from - that despite what you may think, you are now prepared for just about anything life will throw at you – you just need belief.
Of these four responsibilities I have spoken about, as of today, you have two of the three most important weapons at your disposal to tackle life – a top university education and youthful passion and exuberance. The third thing is something that will come, and I can say this through personal experience, with some hard knocks, some brutal experiences and some spectacular failures – and this third aspect is wisdom. And while wisdom will come, it will only come if you use your education and your youth to push boundaries, challenge conventional orthodoxies and explore the many different paths that are laid out in front of you.
To illustrate this point, may I remind you that it is 50 years ago that Martin Luther King Jnr told a movement of predominantly educated young people in Washington DC that he ‘had a dream’. The problems of inequity, racism and prejudice were the problems of their day – through courage, determination, youthful passion and energy, young people with purpose and a vision, moved communities and a nation, to a better place. This too can be your legacy – don’t stop learning, keep pushing to do better, set yourself to solve problems and trust yourself – that’s the responsibility you inherit today.
I congratulate the University, and all your family and friends who have helped you arrive at this place today. Congratulations to you and I wish you every success at taking your rightful place in our community.
Thank you for listening to me.
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