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Speech

Honorary Doctorate from Massey University

Issue date: 
Friday, 25 November 2022
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO

E nga rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.

Me le. Siu i likutapu. Kala niuvalu. Foto fili.

I’d like to acknowledge Mr Michael Ahie, Chancellor of Massey University; Professor Jan Thomas, Vice Chancellor; and all Massey University faculty staff here today. It’s very special to be back at this institution so close to my heart.

To all the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, partners – my sincere thanks to you all for supporting today’s graduates along their academic journey.

And of course, to today’s graduands – my very warmest congratulations. Today represents the culmination of many years of hard work, hours spent in the library and laboratory, and sacrifices made in order to see out your course of study.

I hope you take today to celebrate your achievements of these past years with those closest to you – as well as to thank all those, here or elsewhere, who have supported you along the way.

And once these celebrations are over, the library books are all returned, boxes and boots packed and unpacked – I hope you can take some time to pause and reflect on your experiences here at Massey: how you’ve grown intellectually and personally, and the sort of lives and careers you hope to build.

This is an incredibly exciting moment in your lives – a moment of new beginnings and immense opportunity. Enjoy this moment; seize it, and continue to share the journey ahead with those you love.

As I’m sure you’ve been told many times, and perhaps already experienced, life will inevitably take you down paths you’d never expected to travel – and that’s a wonderful thing.

I for one could never have imagined the career I’ve had since leaving Massey University. Certainly, as an undergraduate sitting where you are now, I did not for a moment consider that I might one day be appointed Governor-General, or indeed receive an Honorary Doctorate from an institution that has meant so much to me.

Since leaving Palmerston North, I’ve spent my professional life straddling academia and the public sector – I have worked as a Professor and in leadership roles at universities, including back here, as Head of the School of Public Health. I served as Children’s Commissioner, and very briefly as the Chief Executive of the Royal Society Te Apārangi, before being appointed Governor-General.

It’s perhaps not your typical academic’s career path, but then again, I’ve never really considered myself an especially orthodox academic. However, like most academics, I have always been guided by a sense of curiosity and a desire to never stop learning – and I very much share the staunch belief of the academic community that knowledge is sacred.

However, it was while I was studying at this very institution that I came to understand that, for me, the pursuit of knowledge wasn’t enough. I’ve always been driven to ask: how do I apply this knowledge in a way that does the greatest possible good – that has the greatest possible impact on the wellbeing of my fellow New Zealanders?

And that is a question I continue to ask in my current role, and one I hope you will all consider, in some form or another, as you set out in your respective careers.

At the outset of a Governor-General’s term, we are asked to consider the values or ideals we’d like to bring to the office. For me, this was an important opportunity to reflect on how I could inhabit this unique role – a role that carries such weight and history – in a way that is true to who I am, to my values, and to the values of this country I care about so deeply.

In the end, I settled on three values. The first is kaitiakitanga: that we are temporary guardians of things that are precious to us, and have a responsibility to look after them for future generations. The second is oranga: preserving the health, vitality, and wellbeing of living things. And the third is manaakitanga: and that is our duty of care for others – to uphold their mana, respect them and look after them.

Holding fast to these values, I will strive to continue fulfilling what I believe to be the chief role of the New Zealand Governor-General: to serve New Zealanders – to reach across boundaries, to celebrate excellence, and acknowledge those committed to helping others.

I’m now over a year into my term, and I’m fortunate to have had some very special experiences. In June this year, I travelled to the United Kingdom to attend Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, and then again in September, to attend Her Majesty’s funeral – both opportunities to reflect on a life of extraordinary service.

I’ve welcomed ambassadors from around the world to their new postings in New Zealand, and I’ve met remarkable New Zealanders from around the country who have excelled in their chosen fields, and have dedicated their lives to helping others.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from meeting these wonderful people, it’s that they do what they do, not because it’s what other people expect of them, or for material gain, but because they’ve found something they care about that is bigger than themselves, and because they understand that our own happiness so often comes in supporting the success of others.

To all of today’s graduates: I urge you to never stop the journey of learning and understanding that you began here at Massey. Be curious, courageous, and committed in whatever you choose to do.

As I’m sure you all appreciate, you enter the world as new graduates at a challenging and uncertain time – at a time of continuing conflict and division around the world, the increasing threat of climate change, and where making ends meet is so difficult for so many.

I hope these challenges do not deter you, but rather serve as inspiration: to take the knowledge and the skills you’ve gained here, and to use them for the good of your whānau, communities, and wider society.

We need critical-thinking, curious, empathetic people such as yourselves: to safeguard our democracy; to find solutions that will protect our planet and biodiversity; and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead free, happy, and healthy lives.

It was the late Queen herself who said, with words that ring as true today as they did when they were spoken 62 years ago: ‘It is at times of change, disorder, and uncertainty that we should cling most strongly to all those principles which we know to be right and good. Civilisation as we know it, or would like it to be, depends upon a constant striving towards better things. In times of stress, such as we are living through, only a determined effort by men and women of goodwill everywhere can halt and reverse a growing tendency towards violence and disintegration.’

It’s the difficult moments, the times of trial, that have the potential to bring out the best in us – to help us grow and find our true potential. I urge you to do so, and to never stop doing so, and I am sure we will all be the better for it.

So, my very warmest and sincerest congratulations once again to all graduates – and my very best wishes for your careers. And my sincerest gratitude to Massey University, for the path you set me down, and the immense honour which you have bestowed upon me today.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Last updated: 
Monday, 28 November 2022

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