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Otago University 150th Convocation Ceremony

Issue date: 
Saturday, 11 May 2019

E te Whare Wānaka o Ōtākou

Kei aku rakatira katoa

Tēnā koutou i tēnei rā nui.

Nōhou-rā te whare wānaka

Nō tatau katoa

No te iwi whānui tonu  

Te mārikanui.

Mauriora ki a Tatau.


To the University of Otago and all gathered here on this eminent occasion

I extend my greetings

Yours is the house of learning

Ours collectively, along with the wider populace, Is great fortune.

May we indeed continue to thrive.



Thank you for inviting me to be a part of Otago University’s 150th anniversary celebrations. 

Over the past two days David and I have visited the Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head and Tuhura at the Otago Museum, and were privileged to be welcomed on to Te Runanga o Otakou marae.

It has been a chance to experience more of this city’s remarkable landscape, dramatic harbour and wildlife, and learn about Ngai Tahu’s role in the region, past and present.

It set the scene for understanding what the Scottish settlers found when they arrived here, with their bold ambitions to establish a university and the pursuit of knowledge for the public good.

It seems that 1869 was a remarkable year for education in the history of New Zealand.  Two weeks ago I attended the 150th anniversary of another distinguished educational institution - Auckland Grammar. 

So, just twenty nine years after the signing of Te Tiriti at Waitangi, settlers at both ends of the country were taking ambitious steps to establish the importance of education for the future of our young nation.  The bold vision and  determination of those Scottish settlers laid the foundations for this remarkable institution – New Zealand’s first University.

In a sense things have come full circle since those early beginnings, with matauranga Māori and sustainability informing academic study, a sizeable cohort of Māori graduates from Otago Medical School, and increasing Ngai Tahu involvement in significant new projects in the city.

The Scots belief in education for all was to enable generations of New Zealanders to achieve success and contribute in ways unimaginable to their forebears.

It has ensured that this university could be a mainstay of Dunedin’s status as a centre of substance, educational excellence and innovation, with a flourishing arts and culture sector.

Sir David’s speech reminded me of the extraordinary regard and affection so many Otago graduates have for their alma mater.

Much as I might have wanted to be, I am not a scarfie.

But I can understand the university’s charms, especially for North Island students who are keen to get well away from the parental orbit.

Coming down to Otago is a bit like a practice run for OE. In many ways, this is another world.

Your campus is resplendent with architectural gems, from Scots gothic to sleek, high-tech 21st century.

There’s an equally charming city on the doorstep, with all its attendant distractions.  Significantly, it’s a city that recognises and values the cultural and economic importance of the university and welcomes the staff and students it brings here. There is very much a feeling here that Otago University is the beating heart of this city.

And then there’s  a magnificent wild peninsula to explore, as well as the hinterland of Central Otago.

So it’s all here – a winning combination – or as Sir David put it, an ‘unparalleled student experience’.

A quick look at your 150th commemorative magazine shows the parade of 150 eminent Otago graduates who have helped make this a better country, in so many ways.

I debated which of them to highlight, and of course I must first mention two former Governors-General, Sir Arthur Porritt, and Dame Silvia Cartwright.

Other trailblazers, life-changers, innovators, pioneers, luminaries, leaders, and young guns include Te Rangi Hiroa, MP, doctor and renowned anthropologist; surgeons Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes, Archibald McIndoe, Sir Murray Brennan and Fred Hollows; authors Janet Frame, Dan Davin and Bill Manhire; and a dazzling range of other stars:

Sir Lloyd Geering, Sir Eion Edgar, Sir Bill English, Dame Diana Crossan, Sir Mason Durie, Dame Alison Holst, Dr Farah Palmer and Nadia Lim, to mention just a few.

The founders of this university would be proud and delighted to see their dreams so magnificently realised and affirmed.

Their courage, ambition and determination has been amply rewarded.

The university will need more of the same courage, high ambition and determination in the years ahead.

Your students, already conscious of living at a critical juncture in our history – where we now talk of ‘climate crisis’ and ‘global heating’ – must be wondering what kind of world they will living in when this century draws to a close.

They will be concerned about threats to our democratic processes and understanding of the world when science-deniers and pedlars of fake information can so easily reach target audiences on social media.

One thing is sure. Universities will be the torch-bearers for rational, evidence-based, and ethical endeavour. Their graduates will have the critical tools to evaluate information, and to contribute rational responses to the challenges ahead.

Our academics will continue to speak up publicly, sometimes presenting unpalatable facts that we need to hear.

Our universities will leverage off the talents and perspectives of a more diverse base of students, and there will be increased expectations on our academics and researchers.

Their expertise will be called upon by government agencies, corporates, local government, iwi, and citizens groups as they all work together to find new ways to tackle social, environmental and economic issues, better ways to use our land more appropriately, and new ways to tackle waste and pollution.

I am heartened by Dr Jane Goodall’s optimism that people working at a local level, all over the world, can together bring about great change.

I have every confidence that Otago will be a vibrant hub for such endeavour – and that your graduates, as they venture out into the world, will be contributing to positive action.

Otago’s dreamers, explorers and discoverers will be helping us through the transition to very different ways of living.

Generations of New Zealanders have been inspired by their Otago experience to achieve and contribute.

Their success has been made possible by the people who have led them through the hard slog of tertiary education and inspired in them a love of learning that persists through their lives.

On behalf of my fellow New Zealanders, scarfies and non-scarfies, I congratulate you all on reaching this very significant milestone – and offer my sincere thanks to staff, past and present, for your dedication and achievements.

Thank you for the excellence of your teaching and your research – research that has changed lives, improved our understanding of the world we live in, and contributed to progress, here and beyond our shores.

I wish you all the very best with both challenge and opportunity in the years ahead, armed as always with the high ambition, flair and determination that has characterised Otago university and its graduates – the Otago way.

Kia ora huihui tatou katoa.






Last updated: 
Sunday, 2 June 2019

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