I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the evening (Sign)
I specifically greet you: Rex Williams, Chancellor, University of Canterbury; Professor Ian Town, Deputy Vice-Chancellor; Dr Makafalani Tatafu, Christchurch Minister; Elders and other leaders of the Pacific community, staff of the University of Canterbury, graduates and your families, ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls. May I add, in the context of this gathering, a number of Pacific greetings: Talofa lava; Malo e lelei; Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Kam na mauri, Halo Olaketa and Mi likum yu tumas.
It has been a great pleasure for my wife Susan and I to accept the invitation to attend the University of Canterbury Pacific Achievers’ Evening.
The Governor-General schedule has caused a number of reasons for us to visit Christchurch, and many of those have been for University of Canterbury events.
In these past few months, there has also been the poignancy involved meeting with Canterbury people, in the context of disaster. We were in Christchurch for investitures and community events for the immediate days before the 4 September earthquake that has caused so much damage to the city and the wider region. I think everyone remains equally amazed at the unexpected event and grateful that no-one was killed.
We visited the region some days later on 13 September to meet the people involved in the recovery effort and have used the opportunity of our attendance at tonight’s event to inspect, earlier today, the work that is under way to repair homes and buildings and infrastructure in Christchurch and Kaiapoi.
I must say that it is obvious to us, moving about New Zealand, as we have, and meeting a wide variety of New Zealanders, how impressed the rest of the country has been, at the way in which the people of Canterbury have handled the earthquakes and a number of the on-going difficulties.
One of the legendary posters produced for the British population during the Second World War, had the words on it saying: “Keep Calm and Carry On”. This slogan seems to symbolise what has been adopted by Canterbury people, because that seems to be exactly what they have done—“kept calm and carried on”.
Staff and students at the University of Canterbury have themselves had to take the recent events in their stride, despite the upheaval that was caused, and particularly in regard to damage to the library where a great many book shelves were toppled.
This evening celebrates the graduation of 40 Pasifika students, including this with Master’s degrees and another with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Pacific Studies and Education.
Looking at the graduates present this evening, I am aware of how recently it seems that I was a fresh university graduate myself, and one with a Pacific family background especially when there is added to my Fijian Indian family my two Samoan aunties, and seven cousins.
While I began life in Auckland, my parents were Fiji born and thus the Pacific is part of my ancestry.
Early in my term as Governor-General, I had the task of opening the exhibition titled Tangata o le Moana at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. One of the “exhibits” was in fact myself in a video interview describing what it was like growing up in 1950s Auckland as the child of Pacific immigrants from Fiji in whose primary school class of 40 were just five or six other non-European children, some of those from Tonga, the Cook Islands or Samoa.
We now much more appreciate the words of the late Dr Michael King, noted New Zealand historian, who once said: “In a country inhabited for a mere one thousands years, everybody is an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant.”
There are now many more young people with a Pasifika background at university than there were “in my day” 40 years ago. Many Pacific families who settled in New Zealand have long since seen their first graduates.
In my own family, my father was the first such having received a scholarship to undertake secondary education in New Zealand. Later, there was another that allowed him to complete a medical degree at the University of Otago after qualifying he took up an internship in the Auckland Hospital’s accident and emergency department.
He had planned to return to Fiji, but two things derailed that, the first being the doctor heading A&E suddenly dying and my father being asked to fill his role in an acting capacity. The second was the outbreak of war in 1939, making it increasingly difficult, and then impossible, to travel because of wartime manpower regulations.
So it was that he married my mother, who had come to New Zealand from Fiji to study to be a Karitane nurse, and, eventually, they never left. I was born in 1944 and my brother a few years later.
But in the previous generation in my family were people for whom a university education had never been a prospect.
Tertiary education was a dream for people who were indentured labourers who have travelled from India to Fiji in search of a better life. One grandfather worked in the sugar fields and the other as a clerk and translator in the Fiji colonial government. But like people in many communities, a sufficient store was placed on education of young people to ensure that their future would be a better one.
I would like to congratulate this year’s graduates for having made the decision to dedicate themselves to study in the first place, and then for having had the determination to stick to the course and to complete your qualification. This is a considerable achievement, and particularly for those who have gone on to postgraduate study.
Nothing is gained without some sacrifice, and I know that there may have been many things you wanted to do but could not while you were studying.
But education is worth the sacrifices. There is an apposite saying in Māori that makes this point well. In Maori it goes: “Ko te manu e kai ana I te miro, nona te ngahere. Engari, ko te manu e kai ana I te matauranga, nono te ao.” This in English means, “The bird that consumes the miro berry owns the forest. However, the bird that consumes learning owns the world!”
The miro is one of the tallest trees in the New Zealand bush. The proverb emphasises education being able to open doors to better jobs and to opportunities of all sorts. In other words, like the mighty miro, education allows you to stand tall, among your peers and in the wider community.
There are always opportunities. Progress is a matter of recognising the opportunities and being in a position to be able to advance them and that is where qualifications come into play.
Who knows where education will lead? When I was a law student in Auckland, I most certainly did not envisage that one day the prime minister would make contact with an invitation to be New Zealand’s 19th Governor-General.
But in retrospect, everything I have done seems to have been part of a journey towards the role I have been privileged to occupy now for nearly four and a half years.
My first steps on the career ladder were not spectacular in any way, an example of going backwards before going forwards. I went to the University of Otago initially to follow my father’s footsteps into a career in medicine. I realised quickly that medicine was not for me and returned to Auckland, somewhat subdued, where a reassessment determined upon a change towards law studies.
Once a goal has been re-formulated, however, it is often easier to then step up to the mark. Soon I was able to be a law clerk in a solicitor’s office, as I studied part-time towards a law degree at the University of Auckland, that being a mode of legal education in those years before full time study became the norm.
From that time, new professional roles presented themselves and were taken up. I became a lawyer in 1970, a District Court Judge with a jury trial warrant in 1982, an Ombudsman in 1995 and finally as you see me today, the Governor-General since 2006.
Each role has its rewards and of course challenges, and in that regard I would like to acknowledge the way in which a loving, supportive wife and family have provided me with what might be described as an essential foundation as well as a powerful backstop. This same family support may well apply to many graduates this evening.
Thinking about family, I think it is worth emphasising that education is a family matter and particularly so for Pacific people. When a family member gains skills and qualifications, that person is in a much better position to help and encourage other members, this being something that can extend out towards the community as well.
I would like to endorse something said by His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi, the O le Ao o le Malo, or Head of State of Samoa. As a former Prime Minister of Samoa, High Highness has a long history of public service to his country, and to the Pacific, and is a leading authority on Samoan culture, language and tradition.
In his remarks to the Emerging Pacific Leaders Dialogue Conference in Samoa in March this year, he emphasised that Pacific indigenous navigation was a powerful metaphor for Pacific leadership. He said, and I quote: "True leadership for our peoples requires having pride and vision, the courage of conviction, and a belief in ourselves, in our Pacific heritages and in the need to protect that heritage."
It is a powerful comment that speaks to the shared heritage of all Pacific people as explorers settling some of the last parts of the Earth to be settled by humanity.
That is a cultural tradition that links all the peoples of the Pacific and which speaks of peoples with a proud and noble heritage. Those achievers from another time should provide inspiration to the achievers present here today.
And on what I trust underpins a suitable note of congratulations to each graduate and to those who support you, I will close in New Zealand’s first language, wishing everyone good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.