Emeritus Professor John Rickard, Chair of the Board of Directors, Mr Shesh Gale, Chief Executive Officer, members of the Academic Board, faculty staff, proud parents, and graduands.
Congratulations to you, the graduands of the Melbourne Institute of Technology and class of 2014.
It is an honour to be here and address you.
I have known Mr Gale for some time and recognise his very hard work in providing the best possible higher education for MIT’s students.
There are many days in your lives that you will fondly remember over the years. I assure you that today is one of those days.
Today is also special for your family and your loved ones. You should all thank the people that helped you get to this special day – through all the hard work, late nights, last minute proof reading, and seemingly never-ending study.
But you all made it, together, through the journey and today we can all celebrate the end of this chapter of your life. You are now ‘educated people’ with a platform from which you can soar.
CHARACTER THAT COUNTS
In some regards, the world that you graduate into is a very different one to what I graduated into two decades ago.
The technological revolution was only just beginning – email accounts and PCs were uncommon. Australia was still much more focussed on Europe and America than on Asia. Mining was seen as old industry – yesterday’s jobs! Travelling and working interstate was unusual. Very few had mobile phones. You had to actually ask a girl out on a date – face to face or verbally on a land-line!
Today of course, we live in a highly technological society. Probably every person has a mobile in this room. Photos of today will be beamed around the world on Facebook and Twitter.
The mining boom continues, but the service sector dominates the economy.
People like yourself will have multiple careers spanning the world, and particularly into Asia off the back of Free Trade Agreements that the Government has just signed.
It would be easy to think that what is required to succeed in this new world would be very different to what was required when I graduated; that the advice to be given to a graduate today would be very different to a graduate in the mid-1990s.
But they would be wrong. Because while the skills you require for today are different to those that I required when I graduated, the personal attributes required for success are exactly the same.
They are the same today as they were in 1995, as they were in 1895.
You have got a tremendous foundation by graduating from MIT, but from now, as has always been the case – it will be character that counts… whether it be in business, the arts or politics or any other field you choose to enter.
So my advice to you today is the same that I received when I was your age, and from my twenty years’ experience is absolutely correct.
Of course, as educated people, you can choose to ignore the advice as you feel, and I certainly expect you to at least critique it!
Let me share what I think are important.
First and foremost, I encourage you all to think big.
This is not a difficult principle. I’m sure you all have an immediate idea of what I mean when I say those two words.
But, as with many things, saying is a lot easier than doing.
I start with this principle ahead of all others because you, as holders of a higher education degree, have a head start on this principle.
But my advice is to forget the cynics and the doubters as much as you can and paint a picture of what you want to achieve, not just in a year but in 10 or 20 years.
One of the greatest inventors of all time, Thomas Edison, set himself the goal of coming up with a major invention every 6 months and a minor one every 10 days.
And he made this goal at a time when they were about to the close the Patent Office because as one Member of Congress said, “It now appears that everything practical has already been invented.”
Edison went on to patent 1,000 inventions.
MIT has taught you how to teach yourself, how to analyse, how to make a decision based on fact and risk.
Apply that to something grand – grand for you personally.
And not just a position – the head of MIT, the CFO of a company, the Prime Minister – but something important to you. It is what you achieve that is important, not what you attain.
I have a vision of seeing Aboriginal Australians, particularly those from remote areas, reaping the full benefits that others enjoy.
I hold this dear, but it is not something that can happen overnight, but can happen over time.
What is yours? Think large!
Which brings me to my second key principle.
This underpins nearly every success story in history.
There is a great saying from former US President Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not – nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not – unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not – the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
You think about every person that you know that has succeeded in their chosen endeavour – perhaps your parents, yourselves in graduating, Shesh Gale in starting this institution. Hard work and persistence when the going gets tough is the absolute essential ingredient.
In my profession, the greatest political leaders were often those that simply never gave up.
Our longest serving Prime Minister – Robert Menzies – was elected Prime Minister in 1939 but then resigned in 1941 when he lost the confidence of his Cabinet. He could have walked away from politics then and gone back to a successful legal career.
Instead he mobilised the non-Labor forces in Australia and created the Australian Liberal Party and then went on to become Prime Minister again for a record length of time.
Our second longest serving Prime Minister, John Howard, was similar. He was always under-rated by his opponents; he had many personal and political set-backs. His political death was written time and time again.
But he persisted and became one of our greatest, because, as leading journalist Michelle Grattan pointed out, he was “the man who never gave up”.
HAVE COURAGE – DON’T FEAR FAILURE
My final advice is to have courage and not to fear failure.
Yes, you may fail at some things you try in your life. But it will never be as bad as if you hadn’t tried in the first place.
Having courage does not mean being reckless, but having inner resolve to have a go when failure is ever present.
Sports people are said to have courage, and they do. But in some respects it is nothing compared to the courage required to start a business, as I am sure many of your families have done, where your home is on the line if things don’t go to plan.
It takes great courage to travel the oceans and complete a degree in a foreign land – away from your networks, your loved ones, and what’s comfortable. But many of you did exactly this.
In public life, it takes courage to prosecute an unfashionable idea. But how would we progress if everyone thought the same?
At its heart, courage is having the conviction that your ideas or pathway are correct. How will you ever know if you don’t give it a go!
These are my thoughts that I think underpin all great achievement: thinking big, being persistent and having courage. I hope you will think about these as your embark upon your careers.
I would like to conclude by making an appeal to at least some of you.
You all graduate today in business, accounting, networking or IT. Inevitably that will lead you into jobs in the business or professional services worlds for many of you – either in Australia or further afield.
My appeal to you – perhaps my hope – is that you will engage in public life in some capacity now or in the future.
You have acquired great skills; many of you have showed great courage already. I hope you will apply at least some of this to public roles – in supporting political parties, in sitting on local community boards, in engaging in public ideas – or in some cases, actually running for political office where that is possible.
Political office, here and abroad, is often criticised; sometimes fairly but frequently unfairly.
I think it is the ultimate form of public service, which politicians do not take lightly. Our decisions shape nations. It is a tremendous honour and responsibility to hold a political position.
But our political systems cannot work without good people having the courage to get engaged. To put their names forward, to prosecute ideas and try and make their country a better place.
So I encourage you to think about how you can get engaged.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak at your graduation ceremony.
I wish you every success in what you do.
Congratulations to the class of 2014.