I was honoured earlier this week to deliver the Occassional Address to graduating students of the School of Business, University of Western Sydney.
Here are my words of advice to them:
“It is a matter of great privilege for me to be here today to address the graduating students of the School of Business.
At the outset, let me say … life is a continuum of personal challenges marked by both achievement and by failure … to be awarded a university degree is surely one of life’s greatest achievements, and the wonderful thing is that it is yours for a lifetime.
Unlike you, my own university experience was one of failure … I started a Science degree at Queensland Universityand failed in the first year. I think I majored in playing cards, and the fact that I have not enjoyed the right, nor the privilege, of wearing the gown and the mortarboard has always been a source of great disappointment for me throughout my life.
In life we tend to confuse discipline and self-discipline … whilst I came from a disciplined family background, I lacked the self-discipline so essential to success in the university environment.
A year or two later, I was conscripted into the Australian Army … I certainly learnt a little more about discipline there. I learnt that the highest form of discipline was in fact self-discipline.
Your graduation today is testimony, not just to your years of study and hard work, but to your self-discipline in achieving the success that you rightfully now enjoy.
It is therefore with some humility, that I offer my personal congratulations to the graduating students today.
EDUCATION AND KNOWLEDGE
Allow me to make some observations about Education and Knowledge.
Your desire for a university education has brought you together under the umbrella of this fine University, however the acquisition of knowledge is but a beginning.
What you have learnt is KNOWLEDGE.
How you have learnt is EDUCATION.
It is not so much what you have learnt but how you have learnt that will be important in later life.
The noted psychologist Professor B.F. Skinner said that “Education is what survives, when what has been learned has been forgotten”.
On one of my many trips to Harvard Business School, I recall the Deputy Dean, Professor Len Schlesinger, saying to his students that “much of what you have learnt will be irrelevant in 10 years time” … therein lies the challenge for today’s graduates.
We live in a “KNOWLEDGE” society where today’s information architecture, as evidence by the internet, has diminished the role of knowledge acquisition … KNOWLEDGE is more freely available to individuals than ever before … Google gets billions of searches per day. In fact, knowledge is infinite in its nature, there are NO limits to learning. KNOWLEDGE is the ultimate renewable resource.
In your life after university, it is your education or “how you have learnt” that will be your greater attribute.
The paradox of the institution from which you now graduate is that whilst the university upholds the traditional values of truth, of freedom and of tolerance, it has a responsibility to challenge the status quo. Your university education has provided you with the basic skills to objectively challenge the status quo.
In that way, you will continue your knowledge journey and uphold the very motto of this university – Bringing Knowledge to Life.
SO WHAT OF THE FUTURE? WHAT ROLE SHOULD YOU PLAY?
This is a week of graduations and celebration, and it is probably appropriate that Anzac Day takes place next week. Perhaps more than any other day in the year, Anzac Day is the day when we as a nation (in ever increasing numbers I’m pleased to say) reflect on our country’s history, we applaud the magnificent efforts of so many to preserve our democracy and our freedoms and we reflect on a time when our nation came of age.
But today, your minds are no doubt being exercised more about the future than the past and it is fair to say that you are entering your world of tomorrow at an unbelievably exciting time in modern history. Exciting on the one hand, perhaps threatening on the other. You certainly don’t need me to make you aware of religious turmoil and its relevance to worldwide unrest. You don’t need me to highlight the international financial crises that flow almost endlessly.
If we are to create a better world for future generations, then idealistically it should not be the military might or religious fervour of nations that shape our future, but rather the collective tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for others exhibited by individuals of all nations, that will have the most profound effect in the future of the world.
Of any discipline you may choose in life, I have little doubt that business has the greatest potential to create a better world for future generations.
Business can create wealth and better living standards but it can also destroy it; business can create international goodwill and understanding, but it can also destroy it; business can provide customers with value, a society with responsible behaviour, heaven forbid … the government with tax, and of course shareholders with returns. Indeed this very university is a significant business of itself. As the Business graduates of today, you are the future custodians of that wonderful part our society calls business.
As you go forth from here today, you will actively participate in a business world that is becoming increasingly globalised, you will engage a market driven rationality that will invariably dictate your professional lives. But I urge you not to neglect the need for human solidarity through tolerance and caring for those less fortunate. You have a wonderful opportunity to fix what my generation almost broke. Corporate social investment is not an option, it is an obligation.
LIVE YOUR DREAMS
You know that life after university will be full of challenges, failures and even remorse, but what will stand you in good stead more than anything else is belief in yourself.
Don’t be afraid to dream. As kids we were really good at it … I dreamed about being a ferry driver and ended up working for Hayles Cruises on the Brisbane River until I realised that ferry drivers don’t get paid much. But I don’t regret one minute of it, I was doing what I had dreamt about.
‘To Live Your Dream’ helps you conceptualise your goals in life and gives you a better understanding of your own limitations. Remember that even if you don’t fulfil your dreams, you will have a hell of a good time on the way … and if you’re not quite sure where to start, type ‘Live Your Dreams’ in Google and you’ll get 27,600,000 options to think about.
IN SUMMARY, TO YOU THE GRADUATING STUDENTS
The desire for wealth creation and prestige should not be the only drivers of what you do. Find work that you enjoy, after all, success in life is underpinned by commitment and hard work, then it is surely far more satisfying to be involved in something that you really enjoy doing.
I urge you to be tolerant of those who hold different views to yours in your professional life.
I urge you to strive for mutual understanding for those who may hold different belief systems to yours.
I urge you to continually seek new knowledge and to challenge the status quo so that you are better equipped to help others.
I urge you to accept an obligation to address not just the creation of wealth but to address corporate social investment.
There is nothing more important to the preservation of a society than the health of its educational institutions. I urge you to stay connected to this fine university for there is little doubt that the alumni of this university provide a wonderful foundation of international goodwill, mutual respect, tolerance and understanding of our fellow man.
In that way you can truly make a difference and realise your dreams.
In 10 August 1989, Sir Ian Turbott, the Foundation Chancellor of this great institution from which you now graduate, made the following remarks in closing his inaugural speech.
“It was Winston Churchill who said ‘Enterprises of great pith and moment rely for their execution on men and women of courage”. Sir Ian went on to say “I salute those who established this University, I have no doubt that we have men and women of courage to develop it … and I salute the young people of today, and tomorrow who will make it live. I feel certain that together we will succeed”.
To the graduates today, I say, take courage from Sir Ian’s words … I too salute you! Congratulations.