Faculty of Education and Arts Graduation Ceremony
14 April 2012
You will find, as you move out into the world, an increasing pressure to measure your success. Two apparently easy metrics are money and popularity. Sadly the measurable is not always a correlate of the useful, and such measures are potentially dangerous to our sense of community and disabling to the individual.
But consider now, as you start out on your journey, not of the beginning, but its end. When you come to leave the road and look back, what will you value most? I doubt that it will be money in the bank or how many “likes” you have on Facebook. High on the list, I think, will be human relationships and new things learned. This is neither an accident nor a romantic humanistic illusion.
When I was young, the term “Neanderthal” was used to describe a lack of culture and ingenuity. But archaeologists have found tools and artworks created by Neanderthals and scientists have identified the gene associated with the adaptation to speech in Neanderthal bones. Nonetheless, Human Beings prospered while Neanderthals became extinct.
The one significant difference was that Neanderthals always lived as individuals, hunting and gathering solo. The advantage of being human was collaboration. As the Japanese say: “None of us is smarter than all of us”. So, my advice is to build bridges between yourself and others; between your discipline and others; between your culture and others.
Early in my career, while working on a film about the building of a new road from Edinburgh to Inverness, I learned about the structure of arched bridges and particular those build in the early 1700s by General George Wade when the very first road was constructed between the cities.
A stone arch is created using wedge-shaped blocks. It is the very weight of the stones that gives the arch its strength. However, the force that binds the arch also pushes outwards and, in order not to cave in, each end must have a firm footing that rests equally on either side.
I have come to understand that human connections are like Wade's bridges. They require a certain gravitas to hold together and they last longest when they are approached in the mutual respect of equals. There is one more thing to remember about bridges: they are most useful when they take you somewhere new.
We live in ever changing times and we must innovate and adapt if we are to function within the world as it is becoming. With industrialization came social and technological complexity. The response was increasing specialization, which found its apotheosis in Fordism and the production line, where each worker knows only how to perform one small task and loses their overview of the whole.
In a democracy it is essential that we have a sense of the bigger picture. For it is only then that we can make informed practical and ethical decisions. The best way to maintain that overview is to continuously seek out new perspectives.
B of Laws / Dip of Legal Practice 2012; B of Economics 2009
2012 University Medallist
Graduate Speaker Faculty of Business and Law Graduation Ceremony
20 April 2012
Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Members of the Council, staff of the University, families and friends of graduates, and most importantly, graduates.
A little over five years ago in a school auditorium of my local high school, I triumphantly declared (using my best Martin Luther King expression) that I had dreamt a dream of “unbridled freedom” and that my cohort, upon finishing the HSC would rise up and “no longer be chained by the oppression of the HSC”; free from the shackles of study to enjoy the world.
A few months later, this same naïve kid walked tentatively into the Callaghan campus of the University of Newcastle…and promptly got lost between the McMullin building and the Auchmuty library. In my first few lectures and tutorials, I realised the enormity of the challenge that my fellow graduates and I would face over the coming years.
And after five years of full time study, I have realised that the cry of freedom that I had so proudly sung at my old school was incredibly misconceived but it was also prophetic, just not in the way I intended.
As university students, we were not free from study. On the contrary, we have had to force ourselves to stare into the abyss of 24 hour exams, all-nighters finishing that rogue essay and seemingly impossible struggles to find the hours to cram for that final exam or five, all scheduled for the next day. We have honed our skills, improved our knowledge and bettered ourselves.
In between finishing these assignments, and fighting tooth and nail for a car space, we have developed other skills – procrastination, facebook and learning to highlight headings without reading. And we have discovered what makes the University of Newcastle unique. The camaraderie at University of Newcastle is truly special and will long survive this graduation. That is what sets Newcastle apart – we may not have the sandstone halls of other establishments, but we have a sense of collegiality, of ingenuity and of being able to get the job done. The successes we have achieved as students are directly attributable to the strength and support of our loyal friends and classmates. The friendships we have all made have been forged in the flames of anxiety, exams and lofty expectations and tempered at the Bar on the Hill, Godfrey Tanner Bar or Mamadukes.
Despite some lack of literal freedom, the University of Newcastle and its brilliant staff have given us the most important freedom. Miles Davis, the most influential jazz musician of his era, proclaimed that “knowledge is freedom and ignorance is slavery”. Today, we stand here together, as a proud cohort of friends, with the freedom to choose our own destinies. This freedom has been earned not through bloodshed or violence, (although I think many of us have destroyed stationary and shed tears of frustration) but through a thirst for education and a desire to learn. Through hard work and dedication each graduate here today has improved their understanding in their selected fields and gained their freedom. We are the future leaders of enterprise, free to achieve whatever we can imagine. This freedom is not the freedom to lie about on a hammock on a desert island for the rest of our lives, it is the freedom to think, the freedom to achieve and the freedom to make a difference. This is a more subtle type of freedom, but one that is far more rewarding.
Today, I will not say you are free from study or hard work; in many of our professions, it may be more accurate to say we are out of the frying pan and into the fire. What I will say is congratulations for your hard work and dedication in your education so far. Today is the culmination of at least 16 years of study for most of us and more for others. I wish to especially recognise all those among us who have overcome obstacles in their pursuit of knowledge. There are people in the graduating group today who have overcome disability, poverty, illness, supporting a family or personal tragedy to stand here today in front of you as a graduate.
This congratulations also extends far beyond our graduating class, to all those who have helped shape our lives so far. I thank the professors, lecturers and tutors for their inspiring commitment to our education and for always being there to answer every question. I also thank our friends, family and partners, who have been forced to suffer the rages of stressed students who cannot see their life beyond a take-home exam and must delicately care for the grumpy leftovers of the husk of a student, completely drained of life, patience and energy after a busy schedule. We owe thanks to our peers who have regularly challenged our thoughts in classroom debates or been there for last minute guidance on the word count of a crucial essay. Without the support network of friends, family and classmates, no student could get through the challenges imposed upon us by a uni degree.
So my friends, through our education, we are truly free. Free to choose our paths in life armed with an education to get us wherever we desire to go. That is the greatest freedom of all.