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 then specifically greet you: Professor Pat Walsh, Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria University of Wellington; Rt Rev Sir Paul and Lady Beverley Reeves, our predecessors in this Governor-General role; Former and current members of the judiciary, including the Rt Hon Sir Ted Thomas, Hon Justices Douglas White, John Laurenson and Pamela Andrew, Judge Jim O’Donovan; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is with great pleasure that my wife Susan and I welcome you to Government House Auckland for this alumni event for Victoria University of Wellington.
Some might wonder why, an event for the New Zealand capital city’s university should be conducted several hundred kilometers to the north in the home of at least three other universities. Although I am a former student of New Zealand’s most southern university and a graduate of a nearby one there was no hesitation for Susan and I agreeing to Professor Walsh’s request that we host this alumni event. As long-time residents of Wellington, and for ten years close by neighbours in Kelburn, we have had many warm associations with Victoria, both before and since coming to the Governor-General role in August 2006.
Indeed, looking back at our more than four years in Office, hardly a few weeks pass without some connection with the University. Something notable and early in the role was pleasure of attending the Distinguished Alumni Dinner in October 2006 in support of our friend and award recipient, Lady Jocelyn Keith.
Since that time there have been books to launch and research centres to start off and numerous conferences to be opened either on campus or at venues organised by one of its research centres to be opened. We have also hosted receptions at Government House Wellington for the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology , both of which are intimately linked to Victoria.
Likewise, there has also been the honour of investing many Victoria graduates and current and former staff with honours. An example, in April this year, came the privilege of investing Professors Peter Barrett , and Tim Naish and Alex Pyne with the New Zealand Antarctic Medal to recognise their outstanding work in Antarctic and to do with climate change research.
The honours they, and many other Victoria staff and graduates have received, pinpoint a fundamental role of universities in a modern society in promoting excellence in research and learning as well as contributing in community service.
Universities are important to the development of society as a whole and as centres of research excellence they play an important role in economic development. Universities help society by generating new knowledge and in providing the skills necessary for acquiring membership of professions such as law, medicine, architecture, teaching and engineering.
Universities however do more than merely teach the basic skills needed in a particular profession. They also explain what may be involved in analysis, creative thinking, communication, adaptation and innovation.
Since opening its doors in 1899, Victoria has forged a reputation as a centre of excellence in research and learning. I have already mentioned the work of the three staff members in Antarctic research, but one could also mention the work of the world known alumnus, the late Professor Alan MacDiarmid, who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two others.
Likewise, one could point to Professors Sir Paul Callaghan, Jeff Tallon and David Vere-Jones as winners of the Rutherford Medal, the Royal Society of New Zealand’s premier award for research in mathematics, science, social science and technology. In other fields, one can see the example of Victoria graduates, like that of a good friend of many in this room including Susan and I, the Rt Hon Sir Ken Keith, who is a serving member of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
As Governor-General, I have often spoken at secondary school prize giving ceremonies and have stressed the point that education is not so much about remembering facts and figures, as it is about acquiring the skills to address and understand complex problems.
I have often given the example of the multi-billion dollar worldwide industry in mobile phone technology. Anyone who arrived at a university in the 1970s and said they wanted to enrol in a subject involved with cellphone technology would have either received a blank look or be told that such was a matter of senior postgraduate research only.
Today, of course, cellphones are almost annoyingly ubiquitous and they and other information communication technologies continue to transform our world.
In other words, universities do more than train, they educate. As Albert Einstein once said: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Universities also enhance society through their contribution to our understanding of social and economic issues, both past and present.
It is often said that when you graduate, the University welcomes you to the community of scholars. As the achievements and contributions of this University’s alumni amply testify, entry to that community bestows both benefits and obligations.
As your presence here tonight also underscores, it is vital for graduates to remain connected with their alma mater. That can be done in many ways, including attending events and lectures, voting in or standing for election to the University Council and supporting a range of scholarship and other initiatives.
To close, I note that as the last New Zealand university to be established in the 19th Century, Victoria had a tumultuous genesis, described by James Hector, Chancellor of the now abolished University of New Zealand, as “a thirty years war.” When the legislation that gave Victoria life was hurriedly passed by Parliament in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Member of Parliament for Masterton, Alexander Hogg, made the following observation: “‘All I say is this: that it will be the most popular college in the colony, and, if it is lower in status, it should stand higher in public opinion than the other colleges. As regards the financial difficulties that are apprehended, I have not the slightest doubt they will vanish before the prosperity that will follow a popular institution."
While Professor Walsh may possibly have a different view about issues related to finance, there can be no doubt as to Victoria’s ongoing standing as a popular university in the capital of our country and - as this function exhibits - far beyond.
And on thus what I hope is a suitable note of welcome, I will close in New Zealand’s first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.